Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck

...if you're going to see only one bio-pic this season, make sure it's Good Night, and Good Luck. It probably won't win any Oscar nominations, at least not for its actors, but it's a finely wrought piece of work. David Strathairn stars as the famous radio/tv journalist Edward R. Murrow. But rather than cover his entire life or even the more famous London years, the film focuses exclusively on his confrontation with Senator Joe McCarthy in 1953-4. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, Good Night evokes the feel of what it was like to be involved in the early days of television: the live shows, the 1950s subtext, the feeling that you were in uncharted waters and almost making it up as you went along. You could create prime-time, hard-hitting journalism and turn right around and do soft interviews with celebrities of questionable importance. The latter is represented by a hilarious interview Murrow did with Liberace ("So, have you given any thought to getting married?"), but the focus is on Murrow and Fred Friendly's ground-breaking show "See It Now."

George Clooney, who not only directs and stars as Friendly, also co-wrote the script with actor Grant Heslov, and they make the brilliant decision to let Murrow's words stand on their own. So many scenes are just Strathairn, who's always had a quiet intensity about him, reciting segments of "See It Now." But Clooney and Heslov have chosen monologues that resonate far beyond 1953. We hear Murrow decry the fear-mongering of McCarthy and the consequent curtailing of civil liberties. We see Murrow question the falseness of men who are hiding behind patriotism and piety in order to ruin the lives of people who disagree with them. And we hear Murrow denounce those who would use the pretext of Communism to grab and exercise power in un-Constitutional ways. It's clear that Clooney wants to rebuke both the current Bush administration as well as the largely docile press. But he doesn't let the audience off the hook, either. The movie opens and closes with segments of a speech Murrow made in 1958 in which he foretold the power of television to lead its viewers to escapism and to insulate them from the realities of life. He warns his audience to be on their guard. What would he think of us today?

Good Night, and Good Luck is a film that resonates so strongly that it's difficult to judge in its own time. I have little doubt that North Country and Capote will receive their Oscar praise and then quickly slip into the video store aisle with other unimportant works that leave nary a mark. But we might not know the full impact or quality of Clooney's film for several years. I do know, though, that it is staggeringly relevant and one of the most important films of the year.

-The Phantom Tollbooth

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Toxic leak threat to Chinese city

Major pollution of a river has forced the suspension of water supplies to the northern Chinese city of Harbin, home to 3.4m people, authorities have said. "Benzene levels were 108 times above national safety levels," said China's Environment Protection Administration.

The contamination after an accident at a chemical plant is expected to pass through Harbin on the Songhua river for the next two days, officials said. Some schools and businesses have closed and flights out of Harbin are sold out. "Everyone wants to leave Harbin and it is very difficult to buy tickets," a factory manager told Reuters.

Benzene is a highly poisonous toxin that is also carcinogenic.

Chinese press critical
Fifteen hospitals have been placed on stand-by to cope with possible poisoning victims.
Officials are also on alert in Russian towns further down the river. More than 16,000 tons of drinking water is being brought into Harbin by road, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua said - though this is less than Harbin's residents normally use in a day.

The government initially said the stoppage would last four days, but a water company official has told the BBC there is no set timetable for the resumption of supplies. BBC Beijing correspondent Louisa Lim says residents of Harbin distrust government statements, having originally been told the stoppage was for routine maintenance.

The initial announcement of water stoppages led to panic buying of water and food, exhausting supermarket supplies and sending prices soaring. "The city was full of ridiculously large queues. People were buying water in massive quantities," English teacher Craig Hutchinson told the BBC News website. Other residents told the BBC they felt more inconvenienced than worried.
"I can say that we feel safe and fine. Even though people... may not be able to shower, at least they can drink and cook with good [bottled] water," hostel manager Yang Yan said.

Dangers of benzene:
*Colourless, highly flammable liquid distilled from petroleum
*Used as a cleaning agent, solvent, in dyes and paints
*Lethal to humans exposed to it in high levels
*Chronic exposure leads to progressive degeneration of bone marrow and leukaemia

The order to cut off the water comes after a 13 November explosion at a petrochemical plant in Jilin city, about 380km (230 miles) up the Songhua river from Harbin. Five people were reported to have been killed in the blast, and more than 60 injured. The explosion forced the temporary evacuation of some 10,000 residents, but people have since been allowed to return home.

The Beijing News showed pictures of dead fish washed up on the banks of the Songhua river near Jilin city, but the authorities said there was no sign that chemicals in the river had contaminated the water supply. The high levels of benzene were found upstream of Harbin, but the contaminated river water was expected to reach the city on Thursday morning and take two days to pass through. Officials insisted enough water would be brought in to meet the needs of residents.

Environmental officials in Russia said they were also monitoring the Amur river, which is fed by the Songhua and is the main water source for the city of Khabarovsk. Harbin is in China's north-east Heilongjiang province, and is one of the country's coldest cities, with overnight temperatures this week falling to -12C.


Are you in the area? Have you or anyone you know been affected by the decision to cut off the water supplies?

My son is an exchange student in Harbin. They have been told not to use the water for 10 days including showers, etc. Water from local wells are OK. All water is sold out, but fortunately, the locals haven't discovered Gatorade. Any confirmed details would be appreciated.
Charlie Goodrich, Lexington, MA, USA

At first glance, the Harbin city authorities look not candid enough towards the residents. However, compared with all the other cities along the Songhua river between Jilin and Harbin, all of which should have already been affected by the polluted river water and yet have been quiet on this, the Harbin city authorities are still doing a better job.
theo (Chinese national currently living in Singapore)

I am just waiting for any news on this. My sister is in Harbin teaching and sent me a flurry of disturbing emails- the most perturbing is that there is brown oily water that smells of urine coming out of her pipes. Also some officials have left the city where she is. She has yet to respond to my seven emails and I am eagerly awaiting any news. She also said that she believes that they have known about this water situation days before announcing it.
Kem Kramer , Toronto

I have my oldest brother who is currently working in Harbin, China. We contact him every couple of days and he has let us know of the devastation that is occurring due to there been no water. He has been told the shower he had the day before yesterday is the last one until the end of the week at the earliest. He lives with four other English boys, as they are all teachers working to teach Chinese children English. They had been told that there was no water but not given enough time to save clean water for them to live from. There seems to be a lot of anguish across the country but at least we know he is well so far. we just hope that the showers they all had when the chemicals went into the system will not harm them in any way.
Victoria Hutchinson, Redcar, England

Sunday, November 6, 2005


Figured I'd post updates, just in case anyone wondered what I've been up to lately:

1) I've been working on CDs by Arsov and Split Attitude for release in the online store;
2) I just updated my page on myspace (finally, after much persuading!);
3) I just got a new job at a sales office for a messenger company in the Loop;
4) I have also been considering taking a part-time job in the evenings either at the book store or the record store I used to work at;
5) I have been invited to attend a wedding in Vietnam in February, and want to use the opportunity to research some ESL schools in Hong Kong while I'm in the neighborhood;
6) and just had a couple of really excellent homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Comments? Want a Gmail account? Lemme know.


7) Oh yeah, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe opens December 9th! Groovy!