The Frightening Reality Of Ebola

There is one word putting fear into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. It’s called Ebola. Judging by what’s happened so far, and what is likely to happen in the future, we should all be worried.

It is already one of the deadliest diseases in the world. It has killed more than four thousand people. The number of people infected is double that figure. If it is allowed to rampage around the world, and it this point I don’t know what is going to stop that from happening, then Ebola could affect all of us.

Scientists say this disease is going to get much worse before it gets better. The World Health Organization says there are more than eight thousand suspected cases but this figure could be much, much higher due to under reporting of the disease especially in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia where health authorities would not have a clue.

Health map modeling show the eight thousand cases of Ebola, as of the 10th of October 2014, are expected to jump to more than 18 thousand over the next four weeks. Yes, I said 18 thousand cases. The United States Centre For Disease Control says Ebola cases in Liberia are doubling every 15 to 20 days, while the number of cases in Sierra Leone doubles every 30 to 40 days.

The Disease Control Centre estimates Liberia and Sierra Leone will have 1.4 MILLION cases within the next three months.

In a nutshell, Ebola is a virus that invades cells and replicates like fury. It will hijack a person’s immune system and somehow make the body’s natural defences turn on themselves. It hoodwinks blood into clotting where clotting is not needed, for example around the liver and then it goes about damaging the lining of blood vessels, to such an extent, that infected blood cells packed with replicated versions of the original virus smash their way through like wrecking balls. With the body’s clotting agents already used up, the tiniest break in skin membrane will lead to heavy bleeding, sometimes from the nose, fingernails or anus. Victims die from multiple organ failure as their blood pressure drops away to nothing. And anyone who has come into contact with infected bodily fluids is at great risk of contracting the disease. At the moment it is incurable but there is one drug, while untested, that’s had some success in fighting Ebola. The one saving grace is that at the present time the disease can’t be spread through the air or by insect bites. But Ebola has the capacity to mutate itself which means it could end up being able to do what it can’t do at the present time. And if that happens God help all of us.

West Africa has the highest concentration of cases. The disease has been confirmed in seven countries around the world. The World Health Organization divides the cases into a couple of categories. Those with widespread and intense transmission like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. And those with localized transmission including Nigeria, Senegal, Spain and the United States of America.

Yes. I said the United States of America. This past weekend, a nurse who cared for a man in the United States, who died from the disease, has tested positive for Ebola. A breach of health protocols has been blamed for allowing her to become infected. But what has health officials scratching their heads is: how did the breach happen? More importantly, how did it occur in a country where absolute state of the art equipment and protective gear was available?

What happens next is the inevitable waiting game to see who else, who came into contact with the nurse, might now become infected with the disease. It is insidious and contagious. Police are now guarding the home of the infected nurse. US health authorities say another 50 people who came into contact with the man who died from Ebola in the United States are also being isolated and monitored.

There are widespread calls for countries around the world to do more to combat this disease. The Australian Prime Minister is on the public record saying it is too risky to put boots on the ground in West Africa but that attitude is a bit like putting your head in the sand and pretending Ebola doesn’t exist.

In my view, we have to confront this thing with everything we have got. We simply can’t allow it to become a scenario where the only thing we can say is you should have listened, I told you this would happen, because there might not be anyone left to hear it.

At The Moment My Cat Likes It A Little Too Much For My Liking

We have a foster cat. She is a seven-month-old tortoiseshell called Sadie. One of the things we do is provide a temporary home for cats and dogs that would otherwise be on death row. It’s a pit stop until they can find their forever home.

But right now, Sadie, our foster cat, is driving me nuts. She is on heat and up for it. Big time. I am living with a nymphomaniac who is not getting any. Believe me, that is a very bad combination. I can’t help thinking she was named after that William Somerset Maugham book about a fallen woman called Sadie Thompson. It is such an appropriate name.

It’s not that I mind the way Sadie crouches down, raises her hind-quarters and thrusts her backside in the air. I don’t even mind it when she seductively wraps herself around my ankles or the coquettish way she stares with great concentration and then rolls around on her back. She reminds me of that Nine Inch Nails song I want to f***k you like an animal although I prefer the version done by the group Lady Does It Better. Check it out on Youtube.

What is getting to me is Sadie’s constant, bloody, chirping. Chirp, chirp, chirp all over the house. It’s either chirping or this loud, throaty yowling roooooowwwww. Talk about grievous bodily harm of the eardrums.There is no mistaking her intentions. It’s come and get it boys, I’m all yours. Therein lies the second problem. If she managed to get outside, then every Tom in the street would be lining up. Sadie would be up the duff in no time at all and the world would be populated with even more unwanted kittens. So she has to stay inside and I have to suffer.

Now if I was a tomcat I would be more than happy to oblige just to keep her happy and quiet. But I’m not. So it’s impossible. I’ve tried telling her but she doesn’t listen. We have three other male cats of our own but they are all duds as far as she is concerned. None of them have any balls at all. They don’t have the slightest interest apart from one, who occasionally likes to sniff her nether regions. Probably remembering a long forgotten time. But he’s just window-shopping with absolutely no intention of buying any of the merchandise. Our two dogs are in the same position as me. Sorry but we can’t help.

I’ve been told that Sadie can’t be neutered until she stops with the promiscuous behavior and goes off heat. It did stop for a brief time but it returned again with a vengeance and worse still, it’s showing no signs of disappearing any time soon.

In one desperate moment, a mad thought did briefly cross my mind. What about inviting one of the neighbor-hood Tom’s over just to shut her up? Of course I dismissed it just as quickly. But it did get me thinking and wondering. Do cats have recreational sex just like humans? I’m talking about sex for pleasure and not simply procreation.  Many animals do such as dolphins, rats, horses and birds of the feathered kind. But Guess what? Cats don’t. They only have sex when the female is on heat. It lasts seven to ten days and can occur every few weeks. Once reproduction is achieved the Yes turns into a giant, fat, no way known.

So I guess I just have to bide my time and get ready to rush her to the vet the minute there is a break in proceedings.

Either that, or get a gun and take her out the back and shoot her. Bang, bang. Of course I am having a big joke. But if you could ask Sadie I’m sure she’d say please take me out the back so we can have a bang, bang as in gang-bang. Yippee.

Not So Happy Kingdom

When I was a kid, growing up, there was one place in the world where I wanted to go. It was called Disneyland. Most kids do. It’s a place built for kids and named after a man who probably remained a kid all his life or had the imagination of one. Of course I didn’t get to go there until I was an adult but what’s a few decades between friends?

The sign at the front entrance said it all for me: welcome to the happiest place on earth. No harm in that. We all need to dream. But you know what? I kind of believed it and have done every since, until I read something the other day. The kind of something called a big, fat reality check that takes hold of your naivety and tosses it back in your face. The kind of reality check that makes you feel as sad as the kid who hears the shattering news that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.

The story was called the shocking facts about the happiest place on earth. Talk about shattering. Behind the smiles and screams of joy at Disneyland a truly darker side might be lurking that most of us, apparently didn’t know about. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, the story went on to list the most surprising and horrifying things that have occurred at Disney theme parks. These incidents could in no way be described as Mickey Mouse. I’m talking deaths and serious injuries. But be warned. Your perception of a Disneyland ride might be changed forever.

In July 2014 a British tourist lost two fingertips after dangling his hand outside the boat on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World in Florida. Three months earlier, a 12-year-old boy badly lacerated four fingers on the same ride.

In 2103, a woman died from complications after fracturing her leg while trying to board the Jungle Cruise in Orlando. Her family has filed a lawsuit against Disney claiming her death could have been avoided if staff had attempted to help her to board.

There have been other deaths. A cleaner was killed while working on a boat in the It’s A Small World attraction at Disneyland Paris, a stunt performer was killed while practicing a tumble roll for the Indian Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular in Florida, a Disney worker dressed as Pluto was run over and killed during a Disney parade would you believe? There was even a fatal incident involving my favorite ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster. A wheel assembly fell off, landing on top of another car, killing one person and injuring ten others.

There was the case of a man dressed like Donald Duck who is alleged to have sexually assaulted a woman at Disneyland. And the Splash Mountain ride should actually be renamed Flash Mountain because of the numbers of young women who bare their breasts to the cameras that are supposed to snap the frightened expressions of ride patrons. The list goes on. I am certainly not trying to point the finger of blame in any way at anyone. I am just truly sad.

I also learned that Disneyland’s Haunted House might very well be truly haunted. Park patrons are in the habit of scattering the ashes of loved ones during the ride. Former Disney employee David Koenig wrote about in his book, Mouse Tales. A tourist group was thrown out of the park after they were caught sprinkling the ashes of a seven-year-old boy. You might be pleased to know the ride was quickly shut down for cleaning.

And once the sun goes down, California’s Disneyland, becomes overrun by feral cats. Park officials encourage them because it keeps the rodent population under control.

Actor Tom Hanks tells a great story about his Disneyland experience when he was playing the role of the great man himself in the movie, Saving Mr Banks. There used to be sky buckets that park patrons caught in Tomorrowland that travelled to Fantasyland through the heart of the Matterhorn. The trip only took four a half minutes but it had to be shut down because people were trying to join the Sky High Club shall we say.

Now some of you might also have inside knowledge that questions the existence of the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. And I must admit I’ve heard rumors too. But I would ask that you keep it to yourself for now. Quite frankly, after all of this business with Disneyland, I’m just not ready to deal with it.

Let’s Talk About SEX

Lately I’ve been blogging a bit about sex. Which is a bit of a worry. It normally isn’t my thing. Talking about it I mean. There is something wildly inappropriate about a middle-aged man, speaking of things that are best left said and done in private. When you get to my age you need to be occupying your time thinking of wholesome pursuits like lawn bowls. But I blame all the bizarre stories that keep popping up.

Let me give you a for instance. The vaginal orgasm, does not, cannot exist. Bet you didn’t know that? Women do not ejaculate, and the G-spot named after eminent gynaecologist, Doctor Ernst Grafenberg should be renamed the F-spot. That’s F for fantasy.

As one wag observed, these final, anti-climactical words are contained in a controversial paper published in the latest journal, Clinical Anatomy.

The researchers from the Italian Centre For Sexology, which sounds like something you’d find in a Fellini movie, claim that the only way a woman can climax is through clitoral stimulation. Vaginal orgasm has no scientific basis and in any case, the concept is a Sigmund Freud invention.

The researchers conclude female orgasm is possible for all women, always with effective stimulation of the female erectile organs.

Phew. I’m glad of that. They had me worried.

But not all sexual health professionals are happy with that ending.

For example, Kayt Sukel, author of Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships, says the researchers who wrote this paper have got it wrong.

While anatomy might be important, sexual response is more than just the sum total of our nether regions. She says the researchers do not explain why some women can’t climax even with sufficient clitoral stimulation while others are capable of reaching orgasm in the absence of it.

Kayt Sukel says this study doesn’t take into account other studies, outside of anatomy, that have examined the vagus nerve, the role that the brain plays in orgasm and how direct cervical stimulation can lead to orgasm in paralyzed women.

In their paper, the researchers from the Italian Centre For Sexology make another controversial point. They argue that because the clitoris, the female equivalent to the male penis, is an external organ it therefore makes internal vaginal orgasm impossible.

Can’t believe how many times I’ve used the V and P words. Talk about out of your comfort zone.

But people like renowned Australian urologist, Helen O’Connell, dispute this concept of a woman’s anatomy. Doctor O’Connell says the clitoris is very much an internal organ.

As for the G-spot, the Italian researchers say it belongs in the same category as unicorns and angels in terms of believability.

You know what? I’m done with all this pop psychology.

What I find amazing is this constant obsession with female orgasm. It just puts more pressure on people. Relationships are hard enough as it is without having to raise the bar in the bedroom.

Surely the most important element of a healthy sexual relationship is being with the right person. The closeness, the sharing and just having regular, good old- fashioned cuddles. Old fashioned, that’s me.

Sex is not a race nor is it a competition. It’s about two human beings who love each other. Nothing is ever cut and dried. It’s never just the one part but the sum of many. There endeth the lesson.

Free Copy Of My Book Cover Up

Just to let you know  a promotion is running where you can receive a free copy of my new, non fiction book called Cover Up, which re-investigates five of the world’s biggest crimes. There are a total of 10 free books to be given away. All you have to do is click to enter. Here’s the link on Goodreads:

You  can also click on the book image which will take you to a page where you can read some of the reviews already received for Cover Up.

There are more reviews on the Amazon link as well. Here it is:

Cover Up is guaranteed to give you a fresh perspective on these crimes as well as revealing new information. Check it out and enter the competition. It costs nothing and you get to read an intriguing book for free.

Don’t Talk About This…We’re Catholic

For the record, I’m not a religious person. It’s not that I don’t believe in God, I just don’t believe in organized religion per se. But it won’t ever stop me, from keeping a weather eye on the latest developments so to speak. Especially, if someone, somewhere manages to upset the apple cart of established thinking.

For example, the apple cart was upset at the Catholic Church, Vatican Synod on the family earlier this week. Six couples were chosen to address 200 bishops from around the world. One of the couples happened to be Australian. Their names were Ron and Mavis Pirola, who are both lifelong Catholics. The Pirola’s are also former members of the Pontifical Council for the Family and Directors of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council.

Clearly, they are well qualified to talk on the issue of marriage and the family but if the synod had known in advance what they were going to say they might have withdrawn the invitation.

Ron and Mavis Pirola devoted almost their entire address to the topic of sex. As the parents of four children,you could say it was a topic they were suitably qualified to talk about. But sharing it with a wider audience, especially a wider audience comprising 200 Catholic bishops was a tad indiscreet. Talking about the joys of sex to this audience is a bit like serving up roast pork at a bar mitzvah.

The Pirolas’ talked about how married couples needed to view sex as an essential foundation for their relationship and how spirituality and sexual attraction had brought the two of them together and sustained their marriage for more than half a century.

But wait there’s more. The attraction that they first felt for each other and the force that continued to bind them both together was basically sexual. The little things they did for each other, the telephone calls, the love notes, they way they planned the day around each other and things they shared were outward expressions of their longing to be intimate with each other.

I can hear you clamoring to yell what is wrong with saying all of that? Surely it is a no brainer and perfectly reasonable in a loving relationship between a man and a woman? Not a problem from my perspective. In fact I agree with all of it. But I was not one of 200 Catholic Bishops, who took a vow of celibacy  who are sitting there listening to this. They did have a problem.

Now at this point you might think the Pirolas’ would be thinking maybe we should sit down and shut up. But if you did you’d be wrong. There was no way they were done talking. The next issue to be tackled in their presentation was homosexuality. The couple told the synod that the inclusion of homosexuals into the church would be a “ model of evangelization” for parishes all over the world.

The Pirolas spoke of how some friends were planning their Christmas family gathering when their gay son said he wanted to bring his partner home as well. This couple fully believed in the teachings of the Catholic church. They knew their grandchildren would see them welcome their son and his gay partner into the family. But their response could be summed up in four words: He is our son.

Of course I wasn’t sitting in the audience listening to this, but in my mind’s eye I can see some Bishops moving very uncomfortably in their seats as the voices of the Pirola’s are ringing in their ears.

And seemingly without drawing breath, Ron and Mavis Pirola had one final parting shot to deliver. They called on church documents to be updated for modern-day Catholics and for future generations. The church needed new ways and relatable language to touch people’s hearts. Compared to what they had already said this was a mere bagatelle.

Then the Pirolas’ sat down, to stunned silence. According to observers, the audience was left completely speechless. But, in a later moment of candor, one of the synod members, a British Cardinal remarked drily, that Catholic Bishops don’t talk about these topics.

I’m sure they don’t. I’m sure they should. I just wished I’d been there to hear Ron and Mavis Pirola.

Alma Tunnel Crash- New Revelations

Last week was my first foray into the world of book publishing. My first book, is a work of non-fiction, called Cover Up.  It chronicles five of the world’s biggest unsolved crime stories. I am talking about the death of Princess Diana, the premature and untimely death of Pope John Paul I, the death of former US Secretary for Commerce Ron Brown, the Arrow Air plane crash in Gander, Canada and the assassination of the Rwandan President which triggered a genocide that killed one million people. This book is a very serious re-investigation of these cases. I deconstruct each of the five official investigation reports in a very methodical and meticulous manner to determine an important question. Are the findings in each of the cases supported by the facts? I won’t say what I discovered because I want you to read the book. What I will say is that my book is testament to the belief that facts can be so much stranger than fiction. The book is available on Amazon and I would urge you to read it and let me know what you think. But this post is not just a shameless plug for my book.

I want to share a discovery I made. Some new information about the death of Princess Diana that came to me after I had written and published my book.

This is not another wild, conspiracy theory. It is relevant and, I think, important information.

Now, I am just going to present it and let you decide on the answers to these two questions: Is there something substantial in this new information that I am sharing here? And, more importantly, what should be done with this information?

So let’s begin.

In the last eight or so months there was a court case in the United Kingdom involving a former Special Air Service soldier called Danny Nightingale, who was facing charges of illegally possessing a pistol and 338 rounds of ammunition. Police found the weapons in a rented house that Nightingale was sharing with another SAS serviceman known as soldier N. Authorities have never named soldier N for security reasons.

What is very clear about this case is that the Police were acting on a tipoff. It turns out the information they received about the firearms cache came from the estranged wife of soldier N.

But here’s where it gets very interesting. Information about the illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition was not the only piece of information that soldier N’s wife told police.

She said her husband had confided in her, ironically after he had taken Princess Diana’s eldest son Prince William on an advanced driver’s course in 2008. This was clearly one of the jobs performed by serving members of the British SAS as protection for the Royal family. The face-to-face encounter that soldier N had with the Prince was enough to prick his conscience to the extent that he felt compelled to tell his wife what he knew about the death of Princess Diana.

During the police interview, the wife of soldier N recounted the information that was relayed to her. In the course of conversation she said she told her husband how wonderful it was that the Princes, William and Harry, were doing so well and it was a shame that their mother wasn’t alive to see it. Her husband, soldier N then told her one of his SAS colleagues had caused the collision in the Alma tunnel. She said he told her it was done in a tunnel to guarantee a fatal outcome, that people had been monitoring Dodi and Diana and that a bright light was shone in Henri Paul’s eyes to cause the collision with the concrete pylon.

Soldier N told his wife the hit had been carried out by SAS soldiers riding motorcycles.

Clearly, these claims need to be treated with a deal of caution because they were coming from someone who was an aggrieved party in an acrimonious marriage breakup. People in that situation have been known to say and do anything to get back at a partner.

But what elevates her story beyond what a scorned woman might say, is that her version has been corroborated by a number of independent witnesses. People driving in the tunnel, who saw the collision involving Princess Diana’s Mercedes, also said they saw the bright light before the crash. One of the eye-witnesses was travelling in a taxi behind the Princess’s Mercedes when the crash occurred. He was in the perfect position to see everything. He spoke of the blinding, bright light.

It was also corroborated by one other very important witness, former MI 6 spy Richard Tomlinson. He told British investigators about a conversation he had with an MI 6 colleague who he said showed him a paper that outlined a plan to assassinate Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, that looked very much like what happened in the Alma tunnel. The plan involved making an attempt on Milosevic’s life when he was driving in a tunnel and using a strobe light to blind his driver causing a fatal crash. Tomlinson said he had been told by members of the SAS that the technique was called lamping. High density beams called Dazzler lasers are shone into the eyes of a target causing a road accident.

Again we should treat this information carefully. It should be disclosed that Tomlinson is an unreliable witness. He has changed his version of events in relation to other matters many times. But what makes his evidence compelling in relation to this was the fact that a large part of it was actually corroborated by British Operation Paget investigators and was included in the one thousand page Operation Paget report which investigated the Alma tunnel crash. They found and interviewed the MI 6 operative who gave Tomlinson the information. But they don’t ever name him. As you might expect, what Tomlinson’s colleague told British investigators was a mixture of confirmation of some points and denial on others. What is truly remarkable is that he confirmed that he wrote the position paper that talked of a planned assassination. But the MI 6 agent denied that Milosevic was the target. In fact he told British investigators, the paper had referred to another un-named person who would be targeted for assassination. He also denied that the assassination attempt would have involved the use of a strobe light to cause a fatal collision. But clearly what he told British investigators was confirmation that MI 6 was prepared to use assassination as a way of solving a political problem.

But I have now received new information that moves this story on quite a bit. The British Secret Service’s license to kill isn’t just the fertile imagination of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. It is real and it exists. It was confirmed in evidence given by a former head of MI 6 at the Coroner’s inquest in London. It is called a class 7 authorisation and it has to be approved by the British Foreign Secretary. But the circumstances where a Government sanctioned class 7 assassination can be undertaken is less than clear cut. it comes down to discretion and interpretation.

So, if MI 6 had the power to authorise a hit, is that what really happened to the Princess, Dodi Al Fayed and Henri Paul?

It turns out that while former MI 6 agent, Richard Tomlinson, gave information to British Operation Paget investigators, he gave far more detail to the French.

Tomlinson swore an affidavit to French Investigating judge Herve Stephan. Tomlinson says in the affidavit he is certain that Henri Paul was a paid informant for British intelligence. He also talks of a senior MI 6 officer, Richard David Spearman, being posted to Paris in the month before the Alma tunnel crash. But most importantly, Tomlinson gives further and better particulars about the assassination scenario he discussed with his MI 6 colleague. He also names the colleague as Doctor Nicholas Bernard Frank Fishwick ,who he describes as an MI 6 officer in charge of planning Balkan operations. Tomlinson again repeats his assertion that the plan related to Slobodan Milosevic and that the plan was fully typed and attached to a yellow minute board. This small detail might appear inconsequential, but Tomlinson says it signified that it was a formal and accountable document.

In the affidavit, Tomlinson also details the names of the MI 6 agents who would receive the document. Tomlinson then goes on to name names to again show the credibility of the paper. It was received by the head of MI 6 Balkan Operations Maurice Kendrick-Piercey, the MI 6 security officer for Balkan operations, John Ridde, the SAS liaison officer to MI 6 who Tomlinson doesn’t name, the head of MI 6’s Eastern European Controllerate, Richard Fletcher and the personal secretary to the then Chief of MI 6, Alan Petty.

In his affidavit, Tomlinson says the Fishwick document gives a political justification for assassinating Milosevic and then details three possible scenarios. The third scenario suggested that Milosevic be assassinated by causing his personal limousine to crash. Tomlinson says in his affidavit that Fishwick proposed to arrange the crash in a tunnel because the proximity of concrete close to the road would ensure the crash was violent enough to cause death or serious injury. it would also reduce the possibility of independent, casual witnesses. He said Fishwick suggested one way to cause the crash might be to disorientate the chauffeur using a strobe flash gun which is occasionally deployed by special forces against a helicopter pilot or terrorists. Tomlinson says MI 6 officers are briefed about this during their training. In his affidavit, Tomlinson also discloses that one of the paparazzi photographers who routinely followed the Princess of Wales was a member of what he described as UKN, a small group of part-time MI 6 agents who provide miscellaneous services to British intelligence including surveillance and photography.

In his affidavit Tomlinson also says that after he disclosed this information to the French investigating Judge, MI 6, the CIA and French Intelligence took steps aimed at preventing him from making any further disclosures. He says French intelligence arrested him at gunpoint inside his room at a Paris hotel, cracking one of his ribs in the process. Tomlinson says he was interrogated for 38 hours but was never shown an arrest warrant or given any kind of justification for his arrest. His laptop and his electronic planner were confiscated and given to MI 6 who took them back to the UK. Tomlinson says it took six months for his property to be returned to him. He also says when he travelled to the United States to be interviewed by NBC he was arrested by immigration officials as soon as the plane landed and served with deportation orders. He says immigration officials told him they were acting on the instructions of the CIA.

All of this might go some of the way in explaining why Tomlinson seems to have trouble sticking to a particular story but it is a question only he could answer.

Which brings me back to my original proposition and the two questions I asked. Is there something substantial in these revelations? and, if there is, what should be done with the information?

Shawshank’s Very Redeeming Features

From time to time, I come across small nuggets of information. Gossip is probably a better description. Trivia, I can live with. But is it interesting? Definitely.

Today’s small goldmine of information concerns a movie rated as one of the best ever. I’m talking about The Shawshank Redemption. Chances are you will have seen it on video or TV rather than the big screen. When the film was first released it would be fair to say box office records were left undisturbed. It was one of those conundrum movies. It really came into its own when other formats got hold of it. Life can be like that.

I love the famous line from that movie, when Andy played by Tim Robbins tells Red played by Morgan Freeman. ” Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.” So true.

But here’s some stuff I bet you never knew about Shawshank.

The movie is actually based on a Stephen King short story called Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. King sold the movie rights to his 96 page story to Frank Darabont, for the princely sum of $5,651. Darabont adapted the book into a screenplay and directed the movie. But clearly, King didn’t need the money because he never cashed the cheque. According to that font of all wisdom, The Wall Street Journal, King framed the cheque and sent it back to Darabont years after the movie was released with a note which read: ” In case you ever need bail money, Love Steve.”

Not only does Stephen King possess an overactive imagination, he also has a sense of humor.

First time feature Director, Darabont, having secured the rights and the funding, began the task of assembling the right cast of actors to play the leading roles. He approached Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Kevin Costner but all of them said no, which was kind of surprising to me. Tom Cruise was very keen but didn’t think Darabont could pull it off because of his lack of Director credentials. Cruise wanted the more experienced Rob Reiner to be given creative control of the project. Reiner directed Cruise in A Few Good Men and was Darabont’s mentor. But Reiner said to Cruise if you want to do this movie you have to do it with Darabont and follow the Darabont vision. It was all too much for Cruise and he withdrew. Darabont finally settled on Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman to play the two central characters in the film.

But according to Morgan Freeman, there was always an extraordinary amount of tension between the cast and crew on set because of Darabont, who Freeman claimed lacked confidence in his own abilities. As a typical first time Director, Darabont constantly insisted on re-shooting scenes countless times even if he already had the perfect take. Freeman would invariably say no which resulted in an argument. Freeman later explained it this way to justify his rebellion: I don’t want to be chewing the scenery. Acting itself isn’t difficult but having to do something again and again for no discernible reason tends to be debilitating to the energy levels. He’s got a point.

Morgan Freeman wasn’t exaggerating about doing things again and again. Remember the scene where Andy chats to Red as he throws a baseball in the prison yard? It represented a very small amount of screen time in the movie but it took 9 hours to shoot. And for the entire time Morgan Freeman had to keep throwing the baseball back and forth. Surprisingly, on this occasion, Freeman kept the complaints to a minimum but did arrive on set the next day with his arm in a sling. It was Freeman’s less than subtle message of protest to the Director.

Here’s another slice of interesting trivia. In another scene, there is a shot of Red’s parole papers that include a photograph of Red as a young man. But who was the actual person depicted in the photograph? Was it Freeman as a young man or just a random extra? The answer to that question is neither. The young man in the photo was Morgan Freeman’s son, Alphonso, who liked spending time on set and ended up being co-opted into having a cameo role in the movie.

One of the more dramatic moments in Shawshank was when Andy Dufresne played by Tim Robbins tries to escape from prison. The scene called for Robbins to crawl through a sewer pipe but there was also the strong possibility that it could be dangerous or, at the very least,a health hazard. So a local chemist was called in to test the quality of the water to make sure there was no health risk. But the chemist discovered the water was not only toxic, it was lethal. A courageous or foolhardy Tim Robbins, I am not sure which, agreed to film the scene in the dangerous water so long as there was a hot shower nearby to clean himself.

As I mentioned earlier, many film-goers regard Shawshank as one of the pinnacles of modern American cinema. It was greatly admired by a man who would know. A man who was probably the most famous prisoner in the world and whose life was not unlike Andy and Red. His name was Nelson Mandela and he went on to become the President of South Africa. Robbins met Mandela who told the actor how much he had loved the movie.

Director Frank Darabont wanted the Shawshank Redemption to be authentic as possible so he chose to film in a real prison, the Ohio State Reformatory. The prison was built in 1886 but closed in 1990, three years before Shawshank was made. The prison was, at one time, earmarked for demolition but a group of people went about trying to restore it. The reformatory is now a major tourist attraction as you might expect. It attracts more than 80 thousand visitors every year. There is a 14 stop self guided tour you can take called the Shawshank Redemption tour which includes several sites of major significance from the movie. If you are into Shawshank, its characters, its interesting backstory and how the movie got to be made, then the tour is going to be money well spent.

Has The Rot Set In For Apple?

Something very serious is happening to Apple. I am not given to melodrama or overstatement. And it would be overstating by a considerable margin to describe Apple as rotten to the core. But the fruit of a once great company is looking seedy, tarnished and blighted of late. It certainly isn’t the way Steve Jobs would have done business.

Apple was once a brand synonymous with reliability and innovation. It drew in customers with its magical, consumer friendly, wizardry. Gadgets, that looked state-of-the-art, attractive and did phenomenal things. But I think it’s now safe to say the magic has left the building. It’s been replaced by one blunder after another. And the product launches, proudly proclaiming the latest innovation, are looking more like catch-up than innovation.

The company keeps doing dumb things. Firstly, there were the holes in its security you could literally drive a truck through. Hackers were able to exploit the security weakness and gain access to the private photos of celebrities. Many of the photos showed people in a state of undress. These photos were then scattered over the internet. Things got a whole lot worse for Apple when it was revealed it knew about the security hole in its system, for six months, but did nothing about it. The carefully crafted Apple image of being an impenetrable fortress where all of your very private information could be kept securely, evaporated overnight.

Then just recently, the launch of the much, hyped iPhone 6. This was touted as Apple’s answer to the market gains of its major competitor, the Korean giant Samsung. Once again a very different Apple fell from the tree literally. A technical glitch meant the live streaming of the event didn’t work. Oh my God. The old Apple would never have allowed this to happen. It would have worked flawlessly just like their products. But in keeping with all Apple announcements, there was that expect the unexpected moment: the release of the new Apple watch. This was more like the Apple of old. The kind of breakthrough innovation that Steve Jobs would have been proud to put his name to. It is a device that takes all of the shortcomings already known about these kinds of devices and fixed them in one gorgeously designed bundle. Then Apple dropped the ball completely. It did not say you can go immediately into any Apple retail and online store and buy the Apple watch. That would have got everyone excited and believing again. Instead, the watch won’t be available for six months. Talk about an anti-climax. What were they thinking?

Then Apple delivered the coup de grace. It was a PR disaster of epic proportions. I am talking about their not so great, U2 music promotion. What seemed like the most generous music giveaway in history, installing the new U2 album, Songs of Innocence, directly into the library of the company’s half a billion iTunes subscribers, very quickly turned to custard. Social media was awash with people complaining they were getting a product they didn’t want or ask for. It was meant to benefit both Apple and the band but Apple was forced into creating and releasing a tool so that iTunes customers could remove the album from their library.

The next major cock-up is something I would never have thought possible. Apple has always done very well with the release of their iPhones. So no surprise iPhone 6 and 6 plus prompted consumers to line up for days to get their hands on the new devices. But it wasn’t long before the complaints started rolling in. Some of them unjustified but others were inexcusable. There were complaints that the iPhone 6 was prone to bending. To be frank so would anything if you apply enough direct force. The second complaint was sadly all Apple’s fault. The company released a phone update that, of all things, took away the device’s fundamental feature: the ability to use it as a phone. The other key feature of iPhone 6, Touch ID also didn’t work. The old Apple would never have allowed something so fundamentally flawed to pass quality control. Maybe it was an indication of how badly Apple has slipped in its market share that it felt the need to rush the release of a product that still had major flaws in its design. Then Apple compounded what was already a disaster by releasing a software fix that didn’t fix the problem.

So where does that now leave people like me who are lovers of everything Apple? Sadly I hear a little voice inside me asking the question: Do I still want to buy this fruit?