There is a palpable tension in Joker that keeps drawing tighter and tighter throughout the movie. Not your standard superhero movie. In fact, not a superhero movie at all, but a study of mental illness and what happens when medication is suspended or removed. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Joker. His slide deeper and deeper into the black hole of delusion and psychosis sucks the audience along with him. Whether you try to resist or not, you will find yourself drawn into this man’s desperation. Helpless at first, as he is repeatedly bullied and beaten, Joker gradually and inexorably gains power as he realizes a strength that lay dormant for years, masked by the anesthetizing effect of medication. When he finally explodes in a pivotal subway car scene and shoots his three tormentors, one can sympathize with the liberating impact this has on his life. Joker now realizes he is not weak. In fact, he has strength beyond his wildest imaginings and decides to unleash it on everybody. And his subsequent murderous rampage is perversely something that seems justified. I found myself supporting and even encouraging this character as he continues to commit horrendous crimes. Joaquin Phoenix has masterfully captured and controlled a characterization of Joker that will challenge Heath Ledger’s outstanding interpretation for the right to be called best Joker ever.


Hair loss and comb-overs

I’m attending a wonderful concert. The singer in this ensemble has a marvelous voice. She even mixes some operatic arias in with a happy collection of tunes from the 40’s. But what really catches my eye, aside from the obvious attractiveness of the singer, is the fascinating collection of comb-overs spread out before my eyes. Various gentlemen in various stages of hair loss. There is the classic comb-over, where absurdly long hair is combed over the top of a balding man’s scalp. It’s held in place by some kind of gumbo. Why is it that so many men insist on hiding their hair loss with such comedic styles?
Or the cascade. That’s where a bald patch has developed in the center back, and the man still has some hair on top. So he combs it backwards to cover the skin patch on his head. Again, long comb-over hair that is at least 4 inches in length. It’s so obvious, yet the man must think it somehow makes him look what exactly? Younger? More masculine?
And how about the top tuft? That’s where the bald patch is right on top of a skull. So the solution is to tuft up the hairs around this naked patch, and spike them up and slightly at an angle all around the bald spot. It is reminiscent of wheat fields from generations ago, where the stalks were piled vertically and tied together.
Then there is the guy who wears a hat indoors. Who does that? Especially on hot summer evenings. What are you hiding under that canvas? The hair spills out from under the hat, looks fairly healthy. So why is he wearing the hat? The only answer I can come up with is hair loss up top. As if the hat is compensating for the absence of hair. So come on guys, get a grip. It’s OK to be losing your hair. The process is a called aging. When you start the hiding of hair thru such bizarre style practices, it only emphasizes the absence of hair. Enjoy your age. Revel in the wisdom it has endowed upon you. Celebrate the gray. The contents of your cranium define who you are. Not the topping. It’s just hair!

Now that the shock of Notre Dame’s burning has dissipated, at least somewhat, thoughts turn to rebuilding. The $billion that has thus far been pledged is quite astonishing. How to put that money to use? I propose a glass roof! Since it will be impossible to rebuild the original, as no 400 year old oak trees are available, why not build something new? Something a la Louvre. Notre Dame is, as much as a building can be, a living monument to our society, to our culture, to our collective existence. Open up the roof to the heavens. Think of the symbolism. The 800 year old icon of architecture and religious symbolism opens its roof to God. To the very maker who prompted this cathedral to be built in the first place. A cathedral that welcomes the heavens into its body. Rebuilding the past is impossible and unrealistic. Build the future. Another 800 years of Notre Dame awaits. Look forward and look upward. Glory be to God above!

Cory the coyote

The banging and crashing could be heard by anyone and anything within 200 metres of Cory. He was running straight ahead thru the underbrush, keeping his head low so the hawthorns would not blind him. But his haunches and back were getting lacerated and chunks of his fur were trailing him like some kind of furry pathway markers. Hot on his heels was a pack of wolves upon whom Cory had stumbled while joy running through the forest. Joy running. That feeling you get when your feet, or in this case paws, seem to float above the ground. Once again, he had gotten himself into a pickle and was flying by the seat of his pants, desperate for a solution. No time to think of one, survival was the only objective at this point. How many times had his mother cautioned him about his reckless behaviour? Too many to count frankly. Yet here he was again, running between death and deliverance. Which side would he end up on?
Well, the wolves gave up the chase. Even they were not so angry as to race through a razor laced forest of hawthorns. They had made their point and knew Cory got the message. No more blind ‘joy’ running in this part of the forest.
Once he saw and accepted that the wolves had given up the chase, he slowed down to assess the damage. He was bleeding from numerous gashes. Nothing life threatening, but he was most certainly in need of medical attention. And so he made his way back to his mother’s den.
“Oh my God!” exclaimed his mother, seeing him limping to the entrance of her well concealed lair. “Look at you! What on earth am I going to do with you?”
But now was not the time to answer this rhetorical question. She ushered the poor lad into the den and ministered to his wounds.
“You had best lay down and get some rest son. It’s going to be a few days before you see daylight again. Those are nasty cuts. I don’t even want to know how you got them. It will only make me angry with you.”
And so Cory lay down on a soft bed of pine branches and was soon fast asleep. While he slept, his mother pondered the predicaments her son seemed to inevitably find himself in. It was like a kind of bizarre and pathological, relentless pursuit of death and destruction. She was at her wits end as to a solution. Muttering to herself and pacing the living room, she hardly ate anything over the coming days, worried as she was about her son’s recovery. A couple days after Cory’s stumbled return, mother coyote’s answer presented itself at the front door.
“How ya doin’ sister?” whispered a melodious voice.
“Oh Eddie, I’m so glad you are here.” she responded. It was her older brother Eddie, he of numerous misadventures in his youth. “I just don’t know what to do with Cory. One of these days his luck is going to run out and he won’t make it back here to his home. Look at him. He’s gouged with gashes, lucky the wolves gave up running after him. They at least have enough sense to not jeopardize their own health, even when in pursuit. What am I going to do Eddie?”
Eddie knew the answer. He had not just coincidentally wandered over to see his sister. Word of the wolves’ chase had spread throughout the forest. It was hardly the first time Eddie had looked in on his sister and his nephew, to make sure they were safe. Ever since his brother had disappeared years ago, it was left to Eddie to protect the family. Not really a burden. He accepted his fate and took comfort and pride in the fact he was relied upon. Being single, it gave him purpose beyond mere self survival.
And so it was, that Cory left his mother’s home a few days later, accompanied by his uncle Eddie. They trotted along in silence for the first couple hours. Eddie in the lead, Cory hot on his heels. Every now and then Eddie would slow to a walk, only to have Cory stumble into his backside and then mumble apologies.
“Cory. Keep your head up. I’m in the lead, so your only job is to keep your head up and your ears and eyes open. No daydreaming. You’re not a tourist. There will be time aplenty for hanging around, but we have a journey ahead of us. And if we are to both get where we’re going safely, I can’t afford to worry about what you are doing or where you are. My job is to watch the way. Your job is to watch where you are going. Simple. OK?”
“OK uncle Eddie. It’s just all so new and beautiful.”
“Relax kid. We’ll have lots of time to go touring later. For now just stay sharp.”
And so they continued, with Cory only a couple more times now stumbling into his uncle. By nightfall they had arrived at uncle Eddie’s lair. It was so well hidden that Cory at first questioned his uncle’s memory.
“Are you sure uncle Eddie? I don’t see any shelter here.”
But Eddie knew exactly where he was. He padded along the river’s edge to a slight dip in the bank, turned left into what seemed from a distance to be just a shadow, and disappeared from Cory’s sight. Cory followed, and found himself inside a spacious lair, hidden behind a high sandbank that was anchored by several blueberry bushes.
“Wow uncle Eddie! This is cool!”
“Yes it actually is. The breeze comes off the river and keeps it nice and cool inside.” he laughed. “But i know what you mean. It is pretty ‘cool’ too. It’s well hidden. It’s far from the usual places you’d find other coyotes which means it is far from the wolves too. “
And that segued into a discussion, well mostly presentation, about the importance of staying smart and keeping your wits about you when you were away from your pack. And if you chose to live solo, with no pack to rely on for backup, then it was doubly important to do that and to also plan well.
“Take tonight for example.” said Eddie. “I’m hungry. I’m sure you are just as hungry. We could go out and find some critters, but it is dark outside and we have been on the road for hours. I’m exhausted. You must also be quite tired. So the smart plan would be what?”
Cory did not have to think long about that question. “We rest. Tomorrow is a new day with sunshine.”
And with that, Eddie lay himself down, curled up and was soon asleep. Cory needed no encouragement. He joined his uncle in dreamland.
Over the coming days and weeks Eddie showed Cory several tricks and techniques of hunting and surviving on his own. One of the most important was to make a plan every morning before going out to hunt. Know how long a certain route is going to take and leave enough time to get back to your safe lair before nightfall. If your hunt is not going as well as you had hoped, then abandon it and make certain you are back home before night. Tomorrow brings another opportunity. You can survive a night on an empty stomach but it is not likely you will survive in a strange place with no shelter.
Keep your wits about you, plan well and you can live a long and fruitful life.

Billy was a 7-year-old Blackfoot Indian. He lived in a tepee on the great plains of the mid-west. It was a time when millions of buffalo roamed freely. The rhythms of Billy’s tribe followed the buffalo as they arrived at the summer feeding grounds. Summer was a time of great rejoicing and feasting. The buffalo provided everything the Blackfoot required for their existence. The thick furs would keep Billy warm in winter and provide a soft cushion for sleeping. Even the bones found a use in various tools. And the wide shoulder clavicle ended up as a kind of hockey stick which the children used in their stick-ball game. It is said that our modern ice hockey game has its roots in the stick-ball game these Blackfoot boys and girls played on prairie grass. They used a round stone which was passed on from generation to generation. Stones were a rare commodity on the prairie, especially perfectly round ones, so the keeper of the stone was a very special person in the tribe. He was responsible for ensuring it was never lost or lent to anybody without the keeper also being present. As a result, the stone-keeper usually ended up being one of the best stick-ball players because of all the ‘grass-time’ he got.

Well, on this particular day, a breezy blue sky kind of day, with prairie grasses not yet so high that the ball disappeared under waves of gold and green, Billy was running around trying to keep up with the older boys in an early morning game of stick-ball. Smoke was drifting among the teepees as breakfast fires were urged into action. Billy’s Mom shouted to him;

“Don’t forget you have a meeting this morning with ‘Sun in her hair’” .

“Yeah, yeah momma” replied Billy. ‘Sun in her hair’ was the teacher of the younger boys, and she enjoyed meeting all her new students before classes started. Since the tribe would be living at this site for some weeks, hunting buffalo in their summer grazing grounds, it was a good time to organize lessons for the younger children.

“I won’t forget momma” he shouted, and quickly disappeared over a ridge in hot pursuit of the ball. The whooping and hollering of the boys mimicked the shouting and singing of the men who would hunt buffalo in the coming weeks.

The ball had been struck very hard, and kept on rolling down the steep slope heading for the river. The older boys did not want to go after it, being just a tad lazy at this early hour. They also knew from experience the return trip up the ridge was quite exhausting. But Billy saw an opportunity to curry favour with the older boys so he volunteered to go after the ball.

“I’ll go get it guys, I’ll get the ball”. And so he ran and jumped and tripped his way down the ridge. Unbeknownst to him, at the same time a small herd of about 50 bison were winding their way along the riverbank, munching on green tall grasses and blueberries that thrived along this stretch of river. Billy could not see them, nor could he hear the warning cries from the older boys waiting at the top of the ridge. They had a clearer sight line and saw the potential for disaster. Billy just barreled his way along the river bank to where he guessed the ball had stopped. As he lifted his head, he came eye to eye with the male bison leader of the pack!

They both stopped dead in their tracks, equally surprised to see each other. The stone ball was right at Billy’s feet. The Bison snorted and pawed the ground, readying itself for a charge. All it saw was a danger to the herd. Billy snatched up the stone ball. Just as the bison hunched its shoulders, readying to demolish Billy where he stood, some kind of instinctive connection in his brain snapped Billy to action. He whipped the ball as hard as he could at the bison. Whether it was pure luck or intervention of Billy’s guiding spirit (which of course had not yet been officially recognized since he was not yet of age to undergo the spirit ceremony) was a topic that would be debated for years amongst Billy’s friends. Whatever it was, the stone ball struck the bison square on its nose causing blood to spurt out like a geyser. The bison cried out in pain, wheeled around and ran in the other direction, hooves churning in the mud, desperate to escape this assault on his nose. The rest of the herd did an about face and charged with the leader, back along the river bank and out of sight.

This entire scene was witnessed by the rest of the boys at the ridge top, their jaws dropping in unison, at first shaking their heads, not believing what they had just witnessed. There was no denying the thundering echo of the bison hooves as they rushed away from Billy, splashing up water and mud in their wake. The boys erupted into shouts of joy and young boy war whoops, attracting many of their kin to come and see what the commotion was all about. Billy retrieved the stone and made his way back up the ridge, his beaming smile threatening to split his face in half. The boys hoisted him onto their shoulders and danced their way back to the village, recounting the story to everybody who was rushing from the morning campfires to participate in this swelling crescendo of joy.

When ‘Sun in her hair’ and the medicine man got wind of this episode, they decided it must be a magical sign of good providence. Orders were given to prepare a morning feast with all the trimmings and special treats for the boys. There was no limit to the amount of aged bison jerky the boys indulged in. It was a rare occasion to partake of such a celebration before the first full moon was out, and everybody sang and danced the day and night away. The stone stick-ball that Billy had heaved at the Bison, was placed on the tip of the medicine man’s ceremonial wooden staff. It was to become a sacred object under protection of the elders. But whenever Billy wanted to play stick-ball, he was the only one allowed to take this sacred stone for use in a game, such was the prestige he had acquired thru his daring act.
So of course, whenever a stick-ball game was planned, Billy was the first one asked to join, since all his buddies wanted to associate themselves with his heroic act. Billy was a hero, and from that day on, the new stone-keeper with the official name ‘Billy beating bison.’

Confront difficult obstacles head on, don’t back down from a challenge.

When my son was a toddler, part of our bedtime routine involved choosing a letter of the alphabet and me weaving a story around that letter. The story had to be about some animal, bird or any living breathing species that started with the letter of the night. I tried to include some life lessons into each story. It was a superbly entertaining game trying to find species that matched the letter my son chose, and ensuring that somehow before I got to the end of a story, there was also a useful message. Years went by, and when much older, my son encouraged me to compile the stories into a book format. Thus was born Alphabet Animals. I will be publishing one story per week to this blog, starting with A. The complete book is available at Books and Company in Picton, or online thru Lulu Publishing and also thru Amazon. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them up! Walk tall, think proud, have fun and let imagination be your guide.


Adam was getting bored. He wondered why nobody ever listened to him? He had good ideas.

“So what if I’m small! That doesn’t mean I don’t have big ideas!” he muttered. “I’m tired of being called a little runt!”

But like it or not, he was the little runt. When he was born, all the other brown ants marveled at his tiny size. There were about 100 other baby ants born the same day he was, and not one was smaller than Adam. They all grew very quickly but for some reason, Adam hardly grew at all. When they played outside the anthill, never too far mind you because they knew that trouble was a short hop away if they could not scurry back into the anthill, Adam was always one or two steps behind everybody else. I mean giant steps, not ant steps. Adam had heard stories about the giants but never seen one. It was told that the ground shook whenever they were near. And they used monster machines that chopped up anything in their path. The one good thing those monster machines did, is harvest the grass so that it was easy for the ants to carry food back to the anthill. But the noise of these monster machines so shook the earth, that some of the ant elders found they would lose parts of their shells from the rattling and pounding. They would also lose their hearing, but that did not seem to bother the ants as they grew old. They would then rely more on their touch, and ant legs were very sensitive. These risks were overlooked, because the fresh grass they were able to stockpile after the giants rolled their machines around, made the ants so full and healthy that they eventually worked their days around the risks presented by the monster machines.

One day, when Adam and his buddies were playing outside the anthill, a kind of tag game where you could only use your back legs to tag somebody, Adam decided he had had enough of lagging behind the group. He was going to go on a hike and show them all! He’d go on a long journey (50 feet in giant measure, a massive distance in ant measure) and come back with stories that would finally convince everybody he was not a runt.

“Then they will respect me and treat me like the other kids and not like a baby” he shouted out!

So off he went, heading for the big forest. When he had got about five giant feet away, he turned to look back at the anthill. He could barely make out its shape. Only the tip was visible, poking out from the tall grass like some volcanic sand hill.

“Oh boy, I wonder if I should be doing this? What if I get lost? Maybe I won’t find my way back?”

These and many other questions swirled around inside his head; making him so dizzy he had to sit down.

“That’s all I needed, just a few minutes to collect my thoughts” he said. “I can do this. I know I can do this!” And off he set again.

He was in very high grass just by the edge of the forest, a place teeming with new sounds and sights. Big, blue butterflies twirled around in the sky above. And when he turned around to see where the anthill was he could not make out its shape any more. But he knew more or less where it was, so Adam felt confident about sitting in this wondrous new place and enjoying the beauty all around him. Huge trees towered over him, and far, far above in the high branches he could make out the shapes of birds. He knew that those were very dangerous to ants, and whenever they were around, he had been taught that ants were to find immediate shelter. A thicket covered Adam so he was safe from these flying feathered creatures.

An old green cricket went bounding by and nodded his head at the little ant. “You’re new to this area aren’t you kid?” asked the old cricket. “I live just on the other side of that big pear tree” pointed Adam. “Well you’re quite the brave big ant venturing so far from home” replied the cricket.

Adam smiled and waved as he passed by, feeling so much like a big boy. There he was, all alone and far from home, nobody to yell at him or tell him how tiny he was. Wait until he told everybody a big old cricket had even greeted him and called him a big ant!

It felt so good to be there, that Adam became so relaxed he fell asleep. He dreamed of piles of fresh green grass and ripe pears bursting with flavour. Adam must have been sleeping for a solid twenty minutes, which is a very long time in ant time, when a loud and clanky metallic noise jolted him awake. His eyes popped wide open, and all four feet tensed at once. He was jumping right off the ground. The horrible rumbling sound was coming closer and closer. There was only one thing that made such a loud racket. The monster machine! It was coming from near the anthill! “Oh no!” screamed Adam! Adam backed into the forest; he knew that big trees and thickets also offered the best protection when the monster machine was around. The noise was now so deafening that he covered his ears with all four legs and closed his eyes.

“What am I closing my eyes for?” he shouted. “I am a big ant!” And so he forced his eyes open. What he saw made his whole body shake with fear. A huge giant was stomping by, a mere few feet in front of the thicket. And pulling the giant along, was a monster machine spitting out grass and sticks like a machine gun! The force of the wind hurricane like; it made the shrubs sway back and forth. Adam felt very lucky indeed, to be sitting a few feet inside the forest. The thick tangle of shrubs stopped the spinning and shooting sticks from getting to him. When the noise had died to a little rumble, Adam knew he just had to get home. What would he find?

Adam sprinted along the edge of the forest as fast as he could, heading for the anthill. And when he got within a few feet of his home, he froze in his tracks. “Oh no! This cannot be!” cried Adam. Where before, the anthill had reached high above the grass like a sandy mountain, there was now a crater carved flat across the top! Hundreds upon hundreds of ants were scurrying about in all directions. There was the dreaded panic in the air! The monster machine had run directly over top of the anthill chopping off everything above the ground! Ants were crying. Ants were dying. Worse still, the monster machine was coming back! So Adam ran. He ran and ran and ran! He did not stop running until he was totally out of breath and his legs could not move further. Adam collapsed to the ground and passed out totally exhausted.

“Hey kid, what are you doing lying here in the middle of the field?” shouted a big black ant. Adam opened his eyes with a start, and jumped to his feet. “Who are you?” he said. “Question is, who are you?” replied the black ant. “My name is Adam,” responded Adam. “So Adam, what are you doing here by our anthill? And where is your family?” questioned the black ant. “They were killed when the big monster machine ran over our anthill” cried Adam.

But his voice only cracked a little as he spoke. He decided he was not going to show these black ants that he was scared. He had to be strong. There was nobody familiar to save him here, it was up to him. The black ant asked him which way his anthill was. When Adam looked around, he had no idea where he was. When he escaped from the monster machine, he had run so fast and for so long, that he was now at least 200 giant feet away from his old home. And even if he were to find it again, which was most unlikely, what was there left to find? By now the monster machine would have run over the anthill again, and anybody who had been alive when he returned from his expedition would have been scattered by the hurricane winds that blew from the machine. No, he was going to have to make it on his own.

“Well, listen kid. There’s no room for strangers here. And besides, you’re a brown ant. We’re all black!” said the black ant. “I don’t care if you’re purple ants” replied Adam. “I just need a place to rest for a while. Then I’ll be moving on”. This seemed to satisfy the black ants, and they told him to follow them to their hill.

When they were about to enter the main hole, a few younger black ants ran over to see what the bigger adults were bringing back.

“Hey, who’s the weird coloured guy?” asked the first young ant. “I’m not weird colour!” shouted back Adam “You’re the weird colour.”

That did not sit well with the young black ant, and he pushed Adam backwards. But the loss of his home and his solo journey had emboldened Adam. He pushed back, and he pushed hard. The young black ant went tumbling backwards and even knocked down one of his buddies as he fell over.

“Don’t push me around!” yelled Adam. “I’m not a runt and you can’t treat me like one.” The adult black ant that had asked Adam all the questions looked at the young black and said with just a hint of reproach, “I think you better get used to this guy. He might be around here for a while.” The black ant shrugged his shoulders as if to indicate that like it or not, they would find it difficult to rid themselves of this stubborn brown ant, at least in the short term. And with that, they all filed into the hole.

Adam spent the next few days resting and getting to know his new black friends, especially the one who had first pushed him. They became tight amigos and after about a week the young black approached Adam and said “Listen, Adam. I’ve asked my Dad and he says you can stay with us for as long as you want” “Do you want to? We’d like to have you with us.”

What a change of heart that was! Adam thought about it for only a split second and realized he could be very comfy here. It surely would be better than wandering in the big forest all by himself. And so Adam stayed at the new anthill. Nobody ever pushed him around again or made mention of his different colour. He was just Adam, the new guy! Over time he even became a very respected elder in the new ant colony. Remember, the colour of your skin is irrelevant. Believe in yourself.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

A Christmas standard that has been around for 70 plus years, performed by musical luminaries like Ray Charles, Michael Buble, Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart to name but a few, has now fallen victim to the politically correct #metoo movement that is seemingly sweeping all free thought and expression out the door and into the wastebasket of history. A song that won an Academy Award in the 1949 film ‘Neptune’s Daughter’. A song written by Frank Loesser to be performed at private parties with his wife, since the custom of the time dictated that celebrities were expected to perform at parties. We are living in an age of revisionist history, where only the present day lens of radical feminist censorship is the arbiter of what is appropriate. Welcome to the age of emasculation.