Saturday, August 31, 2019

My Log 754 August 31 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 189: Perilous times as privately-owned media collapse, hoist with their own petard; their capitalist propaganda undermining their economic stability. Irony of ironies!

 The recent outburst of criticism of Donald Trump for his manipulation of the media has got me thinking about some of the conclusions I drew from my experience as a worker in the journalistic trade.
I began in 1945 in small newspapers in New Zealand, three of them, all privately owned by wealthy families, followed it up by working for a similar newspaper in northern Queensland, Australia, I then took some time off to work as a social worker (ineffectively, I have to say, in all honesty) in India three years after millions of people had been displaced and/or murdered by the British-mandated division of India into Hindu and Muslim nations (an idea super-charged for disaster), then went on to Britain where I worked for more than a year successfully in another small local newspaper in the much-damaged (by the war),but politically radical  city of Coventry, continued my small-newspaper experience after emigration to Canada in a Thomson newspaper in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, before migrating for the first time into a largish newspaper in Winnipeg, and finally to The Montreal Star, the first (and last) big-city newspaper of my experience.
That is quite a mouthful of experience, and I am slightly proud that I have been able to reduce it all into one sentence of 162 words --- almost certainly the longest I have ever written in my life ---- by  applying the journalistic tricks I have learned along the way.
However, back to my conclusions: I emerged from my experience of the beast with very much the same conclusions that I accepted soon after joining the trade in 1945.  Frankly, I never had any real reason to complain of how I was treated, but that was because from the first I always knew exactly what sort of thing I could write that would be acceptable to the rich people who owned the newspapers I worked for, and the army of editors, sub-editors and the like who loyally carried out their royal wishes.
In other words I have to confess that throughout hte experience I exercised a subtle form of self-censorship, without which I always knew my tenure would be brief: if I stepped over the line, just once, out I would go, no doubt about it.
Now, this experience has to be measured, as it always has been in my mind, against the persistent claims of the privately-owned newspaper business that they are the guardians of democracy, a formulation that the loyal employee-journalists --- among whom I never counted myself --- effortlessly accepted.  
The refutation of this propagandistic ethic simply lies in the facts: in every country I have worked in, an overwhelming preponderance  of newspapers politically supported the conservative forces in society, forces  that they conceived to be the prop holding up and making possible the operations of the entire capitalist system.
All right, on to the present: I was shocked to read the other day that 250 medias outlets have closed in Canada in the last 10 years, in 190 separate communities.  In the United States one-fifth of all newspapers, 1800 in all,  500 in rural areas, and nearly 1300 in metropolitan areas, have folded since 2004, leaving just over 7,000 weeklies and dailies remaining in print.
These are large numbers, and the reason for tem seems to be that the wealthy corporate advertisers whose money has always supported the media outlets, have transferred their support to the internet, which seems nowadays to claim more readership, at a fraction of the cost of running a newspaper, or even a privately-owned, or community-owned radio station.
To me, if these figures are sending us any message, it is that democracy --- the free exercise of differing opinions ---  is unsafe in the hands of its self-promoted guardians, the wealthy people who own media outlets.  The burden of my argument against news outlets as the guardians of our freedoms as always been that these outlets are more interested in making money than in providing information, free, unfettered, and balanced: I have always criticized media outlets, but particularly the ones of which I have personal experience, the printed outlets,  on their lack of a comprehensive attitude to all of life’s happenings. The obvious example is the disparity between the media’s fascination with stock shares and bond prices and the Wall street activity, of interest primarily to the super-wealthy, compared with the virtual absence of news about the union movement, the condition of workers, or any concern about the freedom of workers to choose their own future, or of their unions to guarantee defence of their inalienable rights.
These declines in unionism are more pronounced in the United States, where the overall rate has fallen to 11 per cent of unionized workers, but even in Canada the rate has fallen from 38 per cent in the early 1980s, to 28.6 per cent now, a figure which has been rescued from more drastic decline by the strong unionization of public service workers in Canada. To be sure, the media hostility to unions has played its part in these declines. And it is no surprise that unions membership and the protection it offers workers is regarded as hostile by most media outlets. That is in the nature of capitalism, and of the acquisition of capital in a few hands. Far from pursuing those objective of unions, the media have encouraged the lavishly-funded industry that has grown around professional agitators whose job is to destroy or damage the union movement. Again, this “industry”, the hostility-to-unions industry
is consonant with a bias built  into the capitalist system.
I have to say that in the days I was making my criticisms along those lines, I had never heard the expression “fake news”. Only since the accession to power of Donald Trump, one of nature’s born liars, has this expression gained currency, and I am surprised --- if I were more dramatic, I might say, shocked --- by how easily the general public have embraced the expression, and begun to apply it to the news provided to them every day by the media in general.
Of course, as usual, Donald Trump, while trumpeting his concern about fake news, is the worst man for anyone to follow: for he considers any outlet that has ever criticized him to be peddling fake news, and he is also able to mock the failing economic  status of the major news outlets. It seem to me perfectly logical that these problems should have arisen in a media environment that has been invaded by major corporations that made their money at other pursuits, and have no interest in news or information, except to the extent that it must support their corporate interests.
At the moment it is hard to see what is likely to settle down from all of this. Although the internet is providing a huge increase in radical critical examinations of society, none of it really reaches a mass audience. It is left to what is now called “the social media”, namely platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon, on which every person can turn himself or herself into his own journalist, to really undermine the whole concept of truth in information. Encouraged by Trump, the King Tweeter, as it were, apparently the most vile lies and scurrilous accusations have become everyday happenings, a level to which even the capitalist-owned press seldom sank. .Governments have begun to ponder how this awful stuff can be restrained, but governments are now suffering from the anti-government bias entrenched over the decades of Reagan/Thatcherism by the privately-owned media moguls themselves. 
Governments, according to the conservative mantra, are not to be trusted with the information system. I have said it before, as a person who has worked for both government-owned and privately-owned media, there is no significant advantage to the private media so far as its claim to be the guardian of our rights is concerned.
It is a long time now since Noam Chomsky and  Edward S. Herman wrote the ground-breaking book Manufacturing Consent, published in 1988, which once and for all established the built-in tendency towards conservative values of the mass media, and which has given rise to a veritable industry of examination through books, films, lectures, symposia, and academic follow-up  that attest to its immense value as a tool of education, and a guide to the future
It seems to me that the old argument between publicly- and privately-owned media is now démodé: surely it is now proven, except to the most dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, that the privately-owned media have failed in their mission to  distribute information in an unbiased, honest and straightforward way. They have been, as it were, hoist with their own petard, the financial collapse of privately-owned media, caused by the many new technologies that have overcome us in recent years, having  created a huge vacuum in the production and distribution of news.
Ironically, as we have more information than ever before in history, and are faced with the urgent need to decide how to handle this information to the best advantage of humankind, other creatures and the planet, the private media  system has almost collapsed, or seems in danger of doing so.  Another irony is that the United States, in this perilous time for the future stability of the Earth, has come under the control of an ignorant, impulsive and  compulsive liar who seems to have no moral centre fitting him for his office.
I think it is going to be a question of, “hang on to your hats, lads,” unless this idiot can somehow be dislodged at the next election—something that seems confusingly both more likely and less likely as every day follows another ---  so that the serious business of distributing information can be stabilized.
And it is obvious that this can only happen with the help of governments. It is time to move on to more permanent solutions, including government funded solutions,  to the economic problems media face.

Friday, August 30, 2019

My Log 753 August 24 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 188 Remember the name Gerry Fortin; he and I wrote a book about his life, and in the coming months I will publish occasional extracts from the book; it tells the history of modern Quebec as seen by a committed working man

Gérard Fortin --- 1
From the book Life of the Party, by Boyce Richardson and Gérard Fortin, published by Véhicule Press, Montreal, 1984

I would like my select band of readers to remember the name Gérard Fortin, an old friend of mine, unfortunately  no longer with us, about whom I wrote a book in 1984 called Life of the Party.  I have been re-reading the book, which was read by hardly anybody at the time, and I have once again found Gerry’s story both so amusing and so inspiring that I have decided to drop extracts from the book into the Chronicles from time to time in the coming months.
Gerry was no saint, and never claimed to be. He was a rough, tough-as-nails son-of-a-gun, born into poverty, virtually uneducated,  who spent the better part of his life as a dedicated worker for the Communist Party, and ended it as a militant for the independentist Parti Québecois. But he had the sort of self-deprecating  humour that is so often lacking among people of the left, and he could keep us all laughing at his tales of his misspent life. That is why I suggested I might record the story of his life. Actually, although I wrote the book, we launched it as co-authors. He told it to me, and I wrote it. It was published by Véhicule Press, of Montreal, and neither of us, nor the publisher, ever made a nickel out of it. I think the publishers  still have copies in their basement.
Underneath his physical and mental toughness, Gerry was a sweet guy. He recalls in the book that when, getting along in years, a woman friend called Marge suggested they should get married. “I managed to put her off, telling her I wasn’t the marrying kind, I had no money, little prospect of ever getting any, that I wasn’t exactly a good catch for any woman. ‘Still, Gerry,’ she said gently, ‘you are the nicest man I’ve ever met.’”
A year or two later, when he was 33 “and had been strenuously avoiding permanent relationships with women ever since I was seventeen,” he narrowly escaped death when he accidentally ran his car into the river, and when he saw how Marge had rallied around, he said to himself “Jesus Christ, maybe I should marry her.”
He adds: “I decided to make the move. I asked her if she would marry me. Well, she started to laugh. She laughed until the tears were rolling down her cheeks. ‘If I said, yes, Gerry, you’d run out of this apartment before I could say goodbye.’ So that was the end of my first big decision for matrimony.”
He later did marry, and settled down with his wife Marie-Paule on a piece of land near L’Annonciation, in Canton Marchand, on the road north from Montreal into the Laurentiens, between St. Jovite and Mont Laurier. There was a leftist connection even to the land he settled on. He bought 13 acres from a remarkable, eccentric man called Major R.T Lafond, who had arrived back from the First World War with a British accent, become a physical instructor  in Montreal high schools (Pierre Elliott Trudeau was one of his pupils), and had bought himself 320 acres of land in the Laurentiens to which, when Duplessis padlocked the Communist Party summer camp, he welcomed the Party as tenants. In long discussions, they convinced him to join, and for years he was one of those stalwart members (Gerry being another) who stood for Parliament and collected the usual 100 or so votes. Until he died in 1981, his very presence infuriated the local clergy and police, as he walked the village streets, always wearing a pair of yellow shorts he had brought back from the war, never ceasing to advocate his strident anti-clericalism.
To record Gerry’s reminiscences, I would drive over from Ottawa, through the back roads, across the country north of the Ottawa river, coming out at about St.Jovite. I would  leave home at 7 am, arriving at 9 am. Gerry would be up, jigging around in a pair of briefs, preparing breakfast, after which we would get down to work over the tape-recorder. He had recently been through some tough times. Employed  as a sanitary  inspector by the local municipality to enforce new regulations requiring cess pools in all residences, he ran up against a group of sore-asses who took against him so furiously that they burned his house to the ground. He told me that my forcing him to confront his past with  my questioning, rescued him from a deep depression during which he was thinking of killing himself.
At about 11 am, after working a couple of hours, he would say, “time for a petit gin,” open a new 40-ouncer, and we would carry on with the work and the drinking until 11 pm.  Gerry, among other remarkable attributes, was the biggest drinker I have ever met in my life. After a day of drinking I would arise the next morning feeling on the point of death, only to find him, up at 7 a.m. jigging around the kitchen, looking as if he never touched the stuff. It was, however, the demon drink that caught up with him eventually: a few years later, suffering from a shoulder complaint, he was put under anaesthetic for an operation, and he never succeeded in coming out of it. He died at the age of 70.
Gerry was born into an illiterate family south of Quebec City in 1923, and the book opens with one of his first memories. His mother married at 17, died at 29, and left behind her 11 children. The parish priest had told his parishioners they must go to the Fortin home and decide which of them would take over the raising of which children. So, there they stand on Page 1, all dressed in their best, as the neighbours say, “I’ll take this one,”  or “I’ll take the baby”, and so on. 
The beginning of the tumultuous, fighting life that was the essence of Gérard Fortin, a devoted son of Québec.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

My Log 752 August 29 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 187; The English, looking at the outside world with their customary standoffishness, prepare to plunge their nation into chaos, just to re-establish that somehow or other they are not Europeans

Well, not for the first time, let me quote Ogden Nash, who wrote
Let us pause to consider the English
Who when they pause to consider themselves
Come over all reticent and tinglish… 

Or words to that effect.
 Not any longer, it seems. Because now that the so-called United Kingdom  has a new Prime Minister, he has been roundly denounced by the leaders of three of his adherent nations,  Welsh, Scots and Irish Parliamentarians who, appear to excoriate his every  manoeuvre, leaving only the English standing alone astride the battlefield, as it were. Horatius at the bridge might be another apposite quote, if only I could remember it.
Many descriptions could be applied to Boris Johnson, but reticent and tinglish are not two of them (even if tinglish was a word).  When he was elected, I tended to believe that when the electorate woke up to what a buffoon he is, there would be an immediate contrary reaction against him. But I have been listening to him since he became Prime Minister, and it has reminded me of one thing: these upper-crust Englishmen have been especially educated for  centuries with the objective of governing the Empire, and just because the only Empire left to them is this group of smallish islands off the coast of Europe, it doesn’t follow that they have abandoned  the governing habits of centuries. One can tell from the casual street interviews conducted by the BBC, that Johnson’s cheerful optimism, following the years of drift and indecision under Theresa May, has already begun to impress the public, so if it should happen that he is able to manoeuvre himself into an election at a time of his choosing, it would not surprise me at all if he should sweep back into power. The Labour Party suffers from the honest leftism of Jeremy Corbyn, who, as has now been documented from many sources, been the target of a  brutal onslaught of unreasoned criticism such as has probably never before been seen in the politics of the nation.
I was working as a reporter in London for The Montreal Star when Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and his acolyte Edward Heath decided to try to join the European Economic Community in the early 1960s. Their reasons were, in essence,  acquisitive, although they never admitted that in public. The fact was they had emerged from the Second World War in a pathetic state, although basking in the admiration they received for the brave fight they had fought against the Nazi war machine, for two years standing alone among the world’s great powers, except for the support of those distant cousins in what were originally colonies, but had gradually become self-governing entities who, grouped together, became known as the Commonwealth.
In the days of Empire, Britain, while widely accepted as the originator of the idea of democratic government, had been also, in its relations with its foreign subjects, always ready to bare its teeth in a vicious snarl, a willingness backed up even as late as the 1950s and 1960s by the indiscriminate use of brutal force used to put down the various insurrections raised against its rule. During these years, for example, the Mau Mau rebellion of the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya was brutally beaten into submission by aerial bombing followed by mass incarcerations, and mass public hangings of miscreants.  The dedicated, specially-trained civil servants who carried out these British brutalities seemed seldom to be worried by the niceties of freedom of expression and the like. I have previously described how a wonderful young Kikuyu who was a fellow-student with me was brutally forced by Colonial Office officialdom into suicide. His crime was that he had been mentioned in the trial of Jomo Kenyatta --- at that moment of 1953 under trial in Kenya, accused of leading the Mau Mau rebellion ---  where he was alleged to have been forced before his departure for study in Britain to take the Mau Mau oath. The colonial Office officials arrived at the adult education college we were  attending in Scotland, with a demand that my friend Henry, one of the sweetest little men I have ever known, confess, which, being entirely innocent, he refused to do. No compassion in those boys: they went after him for the kill.
In those post-war days, the raw materials provided by the colonies --- African, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Asian ---  fed the industrial machine in the home country, and in return, by imperial fiat, these colonies also provided the  premier market for the goods manufactured in Britain.  But by the 1960s this method of so-called Commonwealth preferences was no longer providing Britain either with the guaranteed markets, nor the guaranteed supplies of materials that they needed. So, without so much as a by-your-leave, Macmillan, who loved the big gesture, decided to jettison the Commonwealth connection and replace it with the more profitable European trade connection.  A Swedish study at the time showed the facts and figures of this change in Britain’s trade, although they were not that readily available to the British public.  They were losing money from their Commonwealth connection, so they simply decided to wave goodbye. It was fruitless for such doubters as Hugh Gaitskell, at that time leader of the Labour Party opposition, to remind the government that hundreds of thousands of young men from countries like New Zealand, Australia, Canada and even South Africa, not to mention other colonies like those in the West Indies, had rallied to the British cause in two world wars, in both of  which they gave their lives while the Europeans meekly surrendered, and  the United States stood aloof as the years rolled by.
When it came down to it, this meant nothing to the men who controlled the United Kingdom government. They were ready to join, and to hell with the Commonwealth. At that time, in 1963, President De Gaulle of France, himself a man who loved the grandiloquent gesture even more than Macmillan, shut Britain out by delivering a decisive no. This gave the Commonwealth countries a few years to adjust their economies to the British perfidy. And of course Britain joined the EEC, as it was then known, along with Ireland and Denmark,  in  1973.
Many people have observed since then that Britain has never been an enthusiastic member of the European Union, as it is now known, and as one listens to all the broadcasts emanating from the TV, especially from the BBC during this week, one can immediately grasp the truth that the standoffish British attitude is as lively as ever.  It is extremely striking  that almost without exception, the leaders of the member countries of the EU speak English, many of them perfectly,  as if they have been deliberately preparing to play a role in bringing Europe together, whereas the Englishman, of no matter which background, who can speak French, German or Spanish at all is a rarity. 
I recall  from my days as a resident of Britain reading on a newspaper billboard the declaration of a huge storm. “Continent cut off,” declared the headline. Not the off-shore island of Britain cut off from the mainland, as was in fact the case, but the continent was cut off from the island. Just a way of looking at the world that, the other week, caused Jean-Claude Juncker, one of the European leaders these days,  to remark wittily that “everyone understands English, but no one understands the English.”
And so say all of us…..


Monday, August 12, 2019

My Log 751 August 12 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 186; A 50-year anniversary film on Woodstock gives this author, for one, plenty of food for thought, and leaves him hoping some better response can be found than to shrug and say, “Wot the hell?”

Over the weekend I watched a most extraordinary documentary that brought me up against questions I have pondered for at least the last half century. The film is called Woodstock, and has been made to mark the 50th anniversary of the famed Woodstock festival, held in August of 1969. I remember, in the days following the festival, being taken aside by a friend who had been convinced by his young daughter that a whole new world, animated by a new set of values, had come in being on that vast muddy field in up-state New York. I confess he was working against my entrenched scepticism, and it is to explain this that I am devoting this issue of my Chronicles.
It goes back, I guess, to what I grew up believing.  I was seven years of age in 1935 when the democratic socialist Labour Party government was elected  to power for the first time in New Zealand. I grew up in a kind of transitional family, the youngest of six children of a small village carpenter who managed to scrape his way through the Depression by building farm gates and cow byres for the local cockies (which is what we called dairy farmers). 
My older brothers had to leave school to go work for my dad for no pay, one of the desperate measures needed to see us through those hard times. One of my brothers proved to be such a capable man that at about the time of the change of government, he was persuading my dad to lift his horizons, to tender for larger projects, and he did this so successfully as to start our family on a path towards relative prosperity. As a very small child I remember  my Dad inveighing against the wickedness of the previous Conservative government which tried to solve its problems by hiring the unemployed to dig ditches one day and fill them in the next. My Dad was a working-class man to whom this was totally offensive behaviour, demeaning, as it did, the dignity of labour.
At about his time, however, we moved to a nearby city of 26,000 people --- not a big city, it is true, but at the time the fifth largest in the whole country. My Dad’s first major contract was to build an extension to the city’s hospital --- and thus began the transition of my family from the working class into the class of small business people, whose more conservative ideas gradually began to take over the family values.
None of this much affected me: I was 18 years younger than my eldest brother, and, growing up in the city I was never drawn towards the carpentering trade. Although three of my brothers had to go to the war, which broke out when I was eleven,  I was too young to be conscripted into the service. I entered secondary school  in 1942 and spent the four most formative years of my life there. The war was over when I emerged from high school to take my place in the workforce.
Although most of my schoolboy energies were devoted to playing sports --- cricket, tennis. Rugby, track and field, all undertaken seriously, with any number of peripheral games, such as softball, fives, golf, thrown in from time to time ---  these were also years in which my political opinions were formed. An assiduous reader of the country’s newspapers at our local public library, I soon became aware that not a single favourable article that I ever saw was  written about our Labour government, and I can still recall the surprise I felt when reading copies of the New Statesman and Nation  from Britain to find that coherent arguments in favour of socialism could appear in what seemed to be responsible journals of opinion.
This imbalance of opinion was so startling that  as I grew into manhood, I developed a sort of us-against-them attitude, “us” being the ordinary working people, and “them” representing the establishment, always using their wealth to pull the wool over the eyes of people susceptible to their propaganda, and never hesitating to use the iron fist if forced into it in an extremity.  I vowed then, and I have always respected this vow, that I would never vote for anyone representing this entrenched conservative interest.
Thus, my scepticism about the so-called social revolution that overtook the United States in the 1960s as the nation became ever more deeply enmeshed in the unjust Vietnam war. I never understood the enthusiasm engendered by the Woodstock festival, and I have always believed that the inability of the social revolutionaries to make one tittle of difference in the political balance within the United States, has justified my scepticism. 
Having just seen this new film, I am now prepared to say it presents the best-case I have ever seen for the social value of this so-called  revolution. The festival, as here presented, turns out to have been a gesture of goodwill and hope in the future of mankind, staged by a group of amateurish entrepreneurs who didn’t know much about the task they were undertaking, but who somehow managed to preserve their original intention of hope and goodwill, against almost inhuman odds.  One member of this small group had some family money behind him, and they ran into another group who had in mind virtually the same thing, with the added objective of selling some records; between them, they set out to produce a music festival such as the world had never before seen.
First, they had to choose a place big enough, and open enough to handle a large  crowd that could be as many as   25,000 or even more.  They chose a large open field in a small town in upstate New York, began to import the electricity that such a festival would demand, and thus attracted the attention of the local council, who quickly decided they wanted nothing to do with such a festival and passed a resolution making such a gathering illegal within the boundaries of their municipality.
They had already signed up some bands and had begun to sell tickets so  they did not feel they could cancel at this late stage. Looking around some more they finally came upon a large field of farmland whose owner, in the name of freedom of expression, was willing to have his quiet country life interrupted for a weekend, and agreed basic terms with the organizers. The proposal was for a three-day event at a charge of $6 a day. The ticket sales went so well that they quickly began to realize they would need more toilets than they had ever envisioned, and also that they would need to provide food, water, and other basic needs of a huge youthful crowd, of whose dimensions they had no serious idea.
They began to realize they would need some kind of security system, and they stumbled across a locally-installed cult called The Hog Farm, whose leader, a gap-toothed rube by the look of him, offered to take care of security. Instead of constituting themselves as “a peace force” they called themselves “a  please force” which would never hesitate to ask people to please do this or that. The Hog Farm also offered food, cooked in their own non-commercial kitchens.
Three days before the festival was to begin, the organizers  were surprised to find people already turning up, wandering along the approach roads, with their small tents or shelters, sleeping bags, and offering their tickets as the price of admission. The organizers began to realize if this continued there was no way they would be able to collect money or sell tickets because there were no fences around the property.
Before they knew where they were, they found the approach roads were already clogged with huge lines of traffic in which hopeful participants had arrived, parked their cars and wandered the final mile or so to the site. The organizers had managed, before the opening acts, to erect the necessary high electricity towers, and the stage from which bands would perform. When the show got under way, they were already marvelling at the crowd they had somehow managed to attract. Apparently people had arrived from all over the continent, and, hippie-like, had settled down to enjoy the music, toke up with whatever drug they had brought along or could buy from the drug-shops that opened like magic, and  had begun to express their delight in the freedom of the event.
By the second day, the field was packed with people, cheek by jowl, as far as the eye could see: the estimated numbers so far exceeded expectations as  make it quite clear that something had been called into being whose dimensions they could scarcely grapple with even when it lay before their eyes.
That it was a festival, not only of music, but of freedom --- freedom from clothing, freedom from inhibition, freedom of sex and love --- was clear throughout. And The Hog Farm’s eccentric security patrols worked magic enough to keep everything under control.
At the end of the second day, the organizers pleaded with participants to just lie down on whatever piece of land they could claim, and go to sleep, which they obediently did. On the third day even more people arrived along with the promised rain, in which  the careless crowd stood dripping under cardboard sheets, blankets, anything to cover themselves, and those who were not covered took to the mud like children playing in the back yard.
The organizers had to appeal, urgently, for those who had climbed into the towers for a better vantage point, to come down immediately because the electric charge contained in these rain-soaked wires promised to be a killer, a threat that never eventuated, obviously more by good luck than by good management.
There were doctors on the site willing to minister to those --- and there were many of them --- suffering from drug overdoses, if only they could reach them.  Eventually the organizers managed to hire some helicopters to ease the movement of these essential personnel around the field. When the dimensions of the crowd became obvious, the military authorities began to take an interest. They sent in some  military helicopters, arousing lively fears in the crowd of possible consequences, fears that were stilled when the loudspeakers announced  that ”they are on our side, they are doctors, they have come to help us.”
Various tributes are paid in the film to certain bands and singers ---Joan Baez, for example, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana apparently being among the headliners who delivered more than could have been expected of them.
The final act, one that is unforgettable, came with the little-known Jimmy Hendrix, who, seizing his guitar and playing it in a way that no one had ever heard a guitar played before, performed a terrifying rendition of the US national anthem, whether as promise or threat it would be hard to say.
In the end, they estimated the crowd that attended at 350,000, many of whom stayed on to pick up the garbage and deliver it to pickup trucks for removal from the field.
One of my sons, Thom, a veritable encyclopedia about popular culture, said when discussing with me the meaning of Woodstock, that it was a matter of intent, of its intention to celebrate human freedom in all its forms, an intention they managed not to waver from until the end. In that, it was distinct from the equally renowned, but less admired Altamont concert given four months later by the Rolling Stones. This too attracted an audience of more than 300,000 people, but ill-advisedly the band had  hired the  Hell’s Angels motor-cycle group to handle security. They were, apparently, suggested by the band The Grateful Dead, who were, themselves,  during the concert, so intimidated by the atmosphere that developed under the leadership of the Hell’s Angels, that they left the site without playing. During the chaos that developed around the stage one young person was killed, an event that has become infamous in the history of rock and roll.
This melancholy event brought to an end the previous pretension that a new dawn had arrived for America during the “social revolution” of the 1960s. That was so far from being the case that three years later Richard Nixon was re-elected to the presidency with one of the largest landslides in history, in spite of the fact that all the details of the Watergate break-in had already been revealed, and he was held publicly accountable.
Having watched this new account of Woodstock, seen through the eyes of 50 years on, I feel confirmed in my scepticism about the real, political meaning of these so-called “social revolutions”, as they occur in the United States, always accompanied by a great hoo-ha, that blows itself out before long.
The revolution of the 1960s, whatever else it may have done, did not shake by one inch the control of the wealth-owners over  American business, society or, yes over  culture, as has since been proven by the continuing unshakable nature of this control, still being exercised to its maximum by the owners of wealth, who today are indisputably wealthier, stronger and more ruthless than ever before, and who have turned over management of the country to the most  irresponsible narcissistic president in the nation’s history.
All that anybody has found to do about this so far is to shrug eloquently, and say, “wot the hell, wot the hell, toujours gai, toujours gai.”