Sunday, September 17, 2017

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

My original awareness of "Indian Horse" was when it was in the Canada Reads competition.  Now it has been selected by the Burlington Public Library as their "One Book, One Burlington" selection for 2017.  This is the 11th edition of the event which involves the whole community and has always offered an interesting choice.

Like a lot of people I look for new things, but as I get older I realize that there is usually lot more in a book than you understood the first time around.

The story is being recounted by a recovering alcoholic, Saul Indian Horse forced to tell his life story as part of his redemption, but he is very skeptical.  His name comes from his Grandfather who was the first Objibway of his tribe who brought a horse.  Within his own family, the narrator has conflict between his traditional Grandmother and his Christian mother.  The story starts in the 1960's while his family is trying to live their own life.  He is snatched and taken to a residential school and he has no further contact with his family.

Residential schools for indigenous students have been in the news and subject to the Truth and Reconciliation commission. The experience drove some kids to suicide, others to run away.  They were treated as heathens (with heathen parents) and inundated with Christianity.  Native languages were forbidden and when caught speaking were punished. Many of the priests were sexual predators for both the boys and girls.  Things they couldn't talk about but the effect was to deaden the soul.  Lifelong adjustments usually involving alcohol and drugs

The author loved hockey as a youth and the game provides excitement in the book..  A new priest encourages the boys to tie an interest in hockey by watching "Hockey Night in Canada" and some books.  Just below the age when he would be allowed to play hockey Saul begs for a way to be involved.  At first he is given permission to clean the snow off early in the morning, then he becomes an equipment manager.  A big breakthrough when Saul teaching himself to skate feels confident enough to discard the chair.  "I became a bird. An ungainly bird at first."

Much of the book is a sports story told with the obstacle of being an outsider.  At first as a younger and smaller player who quickly demonstrates superior skills.  Later as part of an Indian team discriminated against by white teams and their audience.  He makes it to the Junior A level in the big city of Toronto, but cannot escape a feeling of having to measure up.

After years of rejection he drops out and eventually succumbs to alcohol.  The book ends hopefully, but the reader is more aware that society has been unfair to natives.  Later in the book, one assumption is destroyed.  I don't want to spoil for those who haven't yet read the book.

Most of the book takes place in northwestern Ontario and at one time moves to Toronto, but every time they step off the familiar surroundings they encounter discrimination.

Richard Wagamese, once described himself as a second generation survivor of the residential school system.  His parents and other extended family members went through the experience.  He feels he suffered from it as at a very early age his parents abandoned him and two siblings to go on a drinking binge and he was rescued by the police. As a result he didn't see his parents again for 21 years and spent much of that time in foster homes and and one stint as an adoptee forbidden contact with other indigenous people.  He developed many bad habits before he got set on a better path.

He became a journalist.  While at the Calgary Herald he won a national award for writing on indigenous affairs.   He acted in one episode of "North of 60."   Died recently in his home in Kamloops, British Columbia on March 10, 2017.

The book has been made into a movie and debuted at TIFF very recently.

My first experience with the One book One Burlington:

A more recent experience with two libraries:;postID=8770153419320425889;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=0;src=link

Sunday, September 10, 2017


The  "Free State of Jones"  really represents a minor blip in history, but it has had some impact.  For one, the South was not as monolithic as we have assumed.

Not covered in my history classes and I suspect not much mention in Amerian classes either.  William Faulkner  wrote "The past is not dead.  It's not even past."  Race is critical in American society and to some extent the movie demonstrates this.

It deals with the notion that the American Civil War was at bottom a war to maintain slavery.  Early in the film it recounts a Confederacy edict that would exempt one white person for every twenty slaves owned by a family.  Many of the recruits quickly realized that it was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight.    In Jones county they learned civic authorities were collecting taxes in kind (horses, pigs, corn, etc) that often left the citizens starving. The desertion rate was in the tens of thousands which is close to where the movie begins.  This set up Newton Knight to rebel against the rebellion.

Newton was a deserter who felt more loyalty to the Union than the Confederacy.  In fleeing authorities he encountered other deserters as well as runaway slaves who found swamps a good place to hide and avoid detection from dogs.  Although married and with kids (the movie only shows one) he became attracted to a slave, Rachel and they went on to have a number of children.

The movie is gruesome in part with very briefly a scene of a head half torn away after being hit by cannon.  Deserters were more common and in the end were a major factor in the defeat of the Confederacy.

Movie was interjected with a modern court case of 1948 when one of the descendents of Newton Knight was charged with miscenegation.  They claimed he was at least 1/8 black, making it illegal for him to marry a white woman.  Flashback to the main narrative we have just met his supposed grandmother helping Newton hiding.  He is already married with one child.  Later we learn that there was a lot of inter racial mixing in Jones with some ended up passing as whites while others found acceptance in different communities difficult.

One aspect of how the slave owners maintained control was keeping the slaves ignorant and unable to communicate or organize.  Reading was considered a dangerous skill.  We see Rachel attempting to learn reading while youngsters in her household are taught elementary skills.  She hides her interest from the owners.  Later in the movie she is able to learn to read.  The southern reason often given was that Africans weren't intelligent enough to read and wouldn't need it for the work they were required to do.

The Civil War only partially settled affairs for the former African slaves. The movie takes us into the Reconstruction where the whites fought back and succeeded in establishing segregation.  Newton was still standing up for the families of former slaves.

Gary Ross, first encountered the idea in 2006, but short of money he worked on the "Hunger Games" (2012 not seen).  Writing the script and developing a cast took another few years.  Gary's father had been a tv writer, Arthur A Ross.  Gary also started writing for tv, but got his big break with "Big" (1988)  He had success writing, but with "Seabiscuit" (2003 not seen)  he started directing.  Altogether as writer, director and producer he received 4 Oscar nominations.  After "The Hunger Games" he rejected opportunities to work on the sequels as he felt they were too rushed.

The original music came from Nicholas Britall who wrote the music for "Moonlight"(2016) and is also writing the music for Gary Ross' next, "Ocean's Eight."

Benoit Dulhamm handled the cinematography.  Born in France he also worked on "the Theory of Everything," and "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" (2008).

Despite criticisms that the movie covered too much I felt it was fine with flash forwards and going beyond the Civil War itself, because the story didn't  (hasn't)end(ed).  I felt the editing was effective keeping up interest while showing connections between the past and more modern times. Juliette Welfing, also with a French background has been involved with a number of movies I also thought were very effective "The Diving Bell and Butterfly" (2007 nominated for Oscar editing)," Dheepan" (2015), "The Prophet" (2009), "Rust and Bones" (2013), Miral (2010), "Read My Lips" (2001) and The Hunger Games.  She will also be working on Gary ross's next, "Ocean's Eight."

Matthew McConaghey, won an Oscar for "Dallas Buyers Club" (2013).  Decalred sexiest man alive by People magazine, but turned away from romantic comedies after 2010.  He was excellent as Newton.

Gugu Mabatha-Raw, born of a English nurse and South African doctor.  Her character Rachel was also bi-racial.  Gugu appeared as the title character in "Belle" (2013) and later, as Will Smith's wife in "Concussion"(2015).

Mahershala Ali after this film won Oscar for best supporting actor in "Moonlight" (    not yet seen becoming first Muslim to do so.  Well know character in "House of Cards."  His character was a composite of runaway slaves.

Keri Russell got her start as a Disney Mousketeer.  She won a Golden Globe for a tv series, "Felicity" (not seen).  Also had a role in "Dawn of the Planet of Apes" (2014).  She had the difficult role of playing Newton Knight's only wife and stayed on the property after Newton lived openly with Rachel.  Altogether in reality she had nine children by Newton.  It was said that she probably left Newton after he cohabited with a daughter or Rachel's (by another man) after Rachel died.

The many who played in Newton's rebellion and Confederate soldiers were uniformly excellent which probably credits director and producer Gary Ross.

2 hours 19 minutes to view was too much for some viewers.  There was a lot of information that had to be left out to retain the essence of the story.    An 18 minute short "The History of the Free State of Jones" was also interesting and I realize some of these people contributed to the story and some even had bit parts in the movie.

The movie illustrates that class does play a role in history.  An interesting book that illustrates this well is "White Trash   Here is a post on it:

Note:  I have seen all the movies listed except "The Hunger Games," "Moonlight," "Seabiscuit" and the tv series "Felicitiy."   I saw an earlier generation of the Mouseketeers.    One of my more popular blogs included  "The Diving Bell and Butterfly" which you can read at:

Monday, September 4, 2017


The Thucydides trap was first noted by the famed Greek historian who noted that a ruling power feels threatened by a rising power making war almost inevitable.

The author studied 16 instances  since the 15th century of a rising power challenging a dominant power with all but four of them resulting in war.  Today it seems obvious that China is rising and is already challenging the United States on many fronts.

Like all ruling powers United States is happy with the previous status quo and most of its citizens have difficulty in accepting they may not be the ruling power in the near future.  The ruling power has always been associated with military might, but Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore feels the next time will involve economic power with military power playing a lesser role.

China's economic growth in a historical context is mind boggling.  It is the major trading partner for over 130 countries and in the absence of the TPP agreement their dominance is likely to increase.  After the 2008 economic problem it maintained a strong growth and is likely to overtake the American economy (it already has in some aspect) in the very near future.  Its dominance is apparent in Asia.  They are demanding more respect and to a large extent do not feel they are treated fairly.

America would do well to ponder how they got to be the dominant force in the world.  They obliterated large numbers of humans who were already settled in North America.   Manifest Destiny was a practical philosophy that pushed American west.  When Teddy Roosevelt entered politics he welcomed an opportunity to chase the Spaniards out of Cuba and in the process take possession of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam.  He also forced Britain to back off an issue in Venezuela and engineered re drawing the Alaskan border to the detriment of Canada.  Teddy Roosevelt helped instigate a rebellion in Colombia that allowed the building of the Panama Canal under American control.  Americans interfered in Latin American affairs until Franklin Roosevelt ended it.  A good part of their economic growth came slavery:

The Chinese are proud.  Their civilization has outlasted all others. humiliated  saw themselves as the only civilization at one time with everyone else barbarians.  The British humiliated China including forcing them to accept opium.  Other Europeans, Americans and Japanese added more shame.  Xi Jinping underwent his own humiliation as his father had been imprisoned.  Xi is investing in science, technology and innovation.  He identified and supported Jack Ma, the owner of Ali Baba, one of the largest firms in the world. Perhaps because of their long history the Chinese are patient, avoid unnecessary confrontations, but have bitten back on occasion.  They are demanding respect and are very sensitive to what they consider slights. Xi Jinipeng's mission can be stated as to make China great again.

There are lots of potential triggers.  Taiwan has historically been defended by the United States while China considers it part of their country.  Japan has a history of abusing the Chinese.  North Korea has been isolated and seems paranoid.  China may well be alarmed at them, but they also are concerned about Americans coming closer to their border, with refugees overflowing.  A trade mis-understanding could escalate as many Americans feel threatened by outsourcing.

To look for hope and guidance Graham examines the instances that did not result in war.  The Portuguese and Spaniards sought guidance from the papacy and accepted it, although at first Portugal thought they got the short end of the stick.  Later it was realized Brazil would be under their jurisdiction.  Britain the world's first global superpower noted United States and perhaps because they had serious rivals nearby, they accepted the new status quo, rationalizing their culture (language, legal, etc.)was being carried on.

MAD  (mutually assured destruction) ironically restrained the Soviet Union and the United States from directly confronting each other.  The author points out that China and United States have economies that are intimately intertwined and could be in a form of MAED (mutually assured economic destruction.

Germany and Britain resolved their sometimes violent relationship with Germany being pulled in to uniting Europe.

There are factors that mitigate the danger.  There are hundreds of thousands of Chinese studying in American and European universities most of whom go back home.  One Harvard graduate was Xi Jinping's daughter.  Globalization has exacerbated tensions in some ways, but in other ways has made us more interdependent than ever in history.

The author offers four strategies.  first might be to accommodate as Britain did with the United States. A second might be to undermine the regime.  A third could be to negotiate long term peace as American worked with Russia regarding such things as arms limitations.  A fourth strategy might be to re define their relationship.

Ronald Reagan was noted as having suggested to Gorbachev that if Martians are to invade earth, the Russians and Americans would have to unite to fight the common foe.  The Author suggested that there are a number of common foes requiring united action.  A nuclear Armageddon is very possible and requires international attention  Another variation is a possible nuclear anarchy with more nations having a finger on the trigger.  Terrorists are an international concern, but would be even more so if they got their hands on nuclear weapons or biological weapons.  And climate change which is becoming more and more entrenched.  All of these possibilities are threatening civilization and cannot be dealt with by any one country or even a small group.

First step is to clarify vital national interests.  Don't need to be too inclusive for example does everyone in Asia threaten America?   Second understand what China really wants realizing that it is not a mirror of what Americans want.  Third, develop a strategy that is deeper that aspirational political statements that are not realistic.  Fourth, the author feels Americans need to focus on domestic concerns including dealing with endemic "corruption," a "poorly educated and attention deficit driven electorate," a lack of "civic responsibility," and a "gotcha press" amongst other concerns.

Graham also feels the Chinese need to be concerned about being too centralized and too stuck in their ways.  He implies if each nation concentrated on their own deficiencies they would realize their highest priority should not be how they share influence in Asia.  They would both do well to read, "History of the Peloponessian War" by Thucydides who had a pretty good diagnosis on the problem.

This is a book that in detail points to a lack of understanding and potential harm to everyone. The dangers and opportunities outlined here are well amplified in the book.  I hope that it gets the attention it urgently deserves.  It was written after the election of Donald Trump.  The issues raised in this book are of the most serious nature , but give this blogger concern for the future of mankind.  It is not just that Donald Trump is so inappropriate for his role in these and other delicate matters, but the people who put him in power have been reckless in their decision and priorities.

For more details check out

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


The Russians are in the news with some frightening activities (Ukraine, Syria, Trump campaign, Magnitsky).  Dictators with egotistical power dreams can disrupt the world in very unhealthy ways.  This blog post is not meant to glorify the political powers, but to remind the rest of us that Russia has given the world a lot of top notch artists. well worth watching.

Russians seem to have a gloomy outlook on life, perhaps because of relatively short daylight and harsh climate.  They must have patience as their movies tend to be longer and bleaker.  They also seem more intellectual than others.  The quality of some of their movies is very high, but unfortunately it is difficult to gain access to them.  Over the years I have seen a few but am aware that for the most part they are not so easily available.

Lev Kulshev was involved in some early films, including covering the Russian Civil War 1918-20.  He turned to editing and was the first to theorize about how altering before and after a closeup shot of a person could alter our perception of the scene and his Kuleshuv effect has an ongoing presence.  He helped found the Moscow Film School in 1918.

Political supervision must effect the movies.  Often one is not aware of politicized movies in the western world, but every writer, director, producer has their own bias.  For the most part the Russian stories and characters are human with the usual foibles and heroisms we look for in cinema.

"Battleship Potemkin" (1925) is a silent film and was subject to censorship.  It had been edited extensively to satisfy censors in Germany.  Music had to be adapted after restoration and some violence deleted. Earlier film about  "Strike" (1925) before the Revolution. Eisenstein was born in Latvia and arrived in Russia in time to be involved in film on the Russian Civil War 1918-20.  He was educated an architect and was first used for set designs.  Both are well done and even innovative for the time.

"Alexander Nevsky" (1938)  also by Eisenstein was a propaganda film, but trying to demonstrate that Russians could stand against the Germans.  They fought against Teuton Knights, very formidable for their time, but in 1938 Sergei wanted to assure Russians they could stand up against the Germans--in subtitles at least the references are to Germans.  Sergei Prokofiev composed the music.  In 1939 it was withdrawn from distribution after the signing of the German-Soviet Pact.

Sergei Eisenstein traveled to Japan to pursue an interest in Kabuki theatre.  He was given a lot of freedom as he pleased Joseph Stalin in the beginning and worked in both the  U.S. and Mexico.  At other times he displeased Stalin.   "Alexander Nevsky" was an effort to placate Stalin.  In his early career he experimented with what came to be called a montage effect achieved by editing a series of short shots in a sequence to condense space, time and information.

"The Cranes Are Flying" (1957) is a story where lovers are split by war allowing a non combatant marrying the woman.  Won Cannes award for Mikhail Kaletazov, who directed, wrote and produced.  He had been a Soviet diplomat in Los Angeles and admired KingVidor and Vincent Minelli.  Mikhail also directed "Letter never sent" (1960) was a story set in Siberia with four geologists who meet a disastrous fire.

"Ballad of a Soldier" (1959) earned an Oscar best original script nomination for director Gregoriy Chukhray.  Westerners do not realize the Soviet Union suffered 30 million soldiers/citizen deaths during World War II.  This movie tells of a single soldier who we are told will not make it through the war and we cannot help but admire and like him as well as a girl he meets on the way back to see his mother.  It is considered one of the most effective anti-war films and is devoid of obvious Soviet propaganda.  It received an Oscar nomination for best script and did win a BAFTA award for best film from any source.  Gregoriy also directed "The Forty First" which won a special award at Cannes in 1957.

Andrei Tarkovsky can be introduced with a quote  "An artist never works under idea conditions.  If they existed, his work would not exist for the artist doesn't exist in a vacuum.  Some sort of pressure must exist.  The artist exists because the world is not perfect.  Art would be useless if the world was perfect as man would not look for harmony, but would simply live in it.  Art is born out of our ill designed world."

Andrei Tarkovsky's best movie "Andrei Rublev" (1969) was based on the the 15th century that included Tartar invasions and the development of theGreek Orthodox Church.  It was heavily censored dropping from the director cut of 205 minutes with an initial cut of 15 minutes and finally down to 145 minutes and finally restored many years later.  Originally Tarkovsky was given a lot of leeway under the leadership of Nikita Khrushev, but when he was replaced by Breznev the censorship increased.  It had been committed to the Cannes Festival, but to avoid attention it was aired at 4 am in the morning, nevertheless it won an award.  It is considered a master piece by many.

"Solarius" (1972) 167 min also had censorship problems.  It represented a diffeent approach to science fiction with less emphasis on on special effects and was more intellectual  It is considered one of the best science fiction movies of its time.  Natalya Bodnarchuk, daughter of Sergey Bodnarchuk, played the leading lady.

"The Mirror (1975) also ran into censor problems.  It is remembered partly because it was considered autobiographical of Tarkovskiy, considered one of the most important Soviet film makers.

"War and Peace" (1966) a little over 7 hours based on  a very intimidating book which most people think of with a complicated plot, but you should dig deeper as Leo Tolstoy was a philosopher using the depicted events to help explain his view of life and existence.  At a later date Tolstoy became a pacifist and influenced Gandhi.  Sergey Bondarchuk--director, lead actor and helped write the script  A leading lady was Lyudmila Saveleva also played in an Italian-Russian production with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni..  War and Peace won the best foreign film Oscar and was also nominated for set design.

"Tchaikovsky" (1970), the biography of a musical legend involved Dmitri Tiomkin, well known American music composer. who served as executive producer.  He was nominated for the Oscar for best music scoring adaptation and original song score.   At 2 hours 37 minutes  the events of his life were covered, but only a few subtle hints that his homosexuality was a constant torment for him.

"Sibiriade" (1979) took on a mammoth task to cover the development of Siberia in 3 hours and 26 minutes.  Most of us outsiders, but also most Russians considered Siberia the backwoods where many are sent as punishment.  The movie carries through three generations using many of the same actors for the different generations.  The salvation of Siberia has been oil.  Farley Mowat wrote a book comparing Russian northern development to Canadian--"Sibir"  Siberiade was rewarded with the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes.

Andrey Konchalovskiy went on to direct several American films including two with Oscar nominees.  He wrote as well as directed including "Tango and Cash," and "Runaway Train."  While in the United States he also won and Emmy awardHe returned to Russia in the 1990's.  
In 2014 he won a best director award at the Venice International Film Festival.  He had also worked with Andrei Tarkovsky.  His "Dryado Vanya" is considered one of the best Russian films.  1979 lost film The First One

His brother Nikita Mikhailov was the lead actor in Sibiriade  In his own right Nikita was
an accomplished director, writer and producer.  A movie that he wrote, directed, produced and acted in, "Burnt Skin" (1994) won Oscar as best foreign film.  He won other awards at Cannes and Venice.  "12" was another Oscar nomination that Nikita wrote, directed, produced and acted in.  One twist on this movie loosely based on "Twelve Angry Men" was that the accused was a Chechen Muslim who generated some prejudice.

"Russian Ark" (2002) might be described as an artistic film as it goes through the Hermitage in St Petersburg with an amazing range of art treasures and creates little historical vignettes.  What is really unique about this film is for over 90 minutes it is just one take.  A German cinematographer, Tilman Buttner was hired for the daunting task.

"The Return" (2003) "Elena" (2011) and "Leviathan" (2014) were all directed and written by Andrey Zvyagintsev who won a Cannes Jury prize and an award at the Sundance Festival as well as Oscar nomination for "Leviathan."  Leviathan had one scene where one actor was to play a drunk, but ironically he was the only one sober in the scene.  The director felt he preferred real drunks to acting.

"How I ended this summer" (2010) filmed on a remote Arctic island--two men--young vs older--beauty of the Arctic.  It is very psychological with sparse dialogue and with stunning cinematography.  The two principle actors, Grigoriy Dobrygin and Sergey Puskepat? shared best acting award at the Berlin Film Festibal.  Gregoriy has been in a few English movies, including "A Most Wanted Man" where he played a Checken on the run from terrorists.  The cinematographer, Pavel Kostonarov, for this film was awarded Most Artistic Achievement at the Berlin Film Festival and has also written, directed and produced short films.  Aleksey Popogrebskiy wrote and directed this movie that is well worth seeing.

"The Vanished Empire" (2008) depicts young adults chasing after Western culture and get entangled in a love triangle.  Directed and produced by Karen Shakhnavarov.

Anton Chekhov wrote a number of stories that have been adapted for the theatre and film around the world such as "Uncle Vanya" which had several versions, but I was only able to watch an English tv version with Anthony Hopkins.  "The Lady with a Dog" (1960 was concerned with a frustrated couple committing adultery because of unhappy marriages.

"Ward no 6" (2009) based on Chekov short story in which a psychiatrist becomes inmate in his previous ward.  He has philosophical talks with intelligent inmate.  Produced by Karen Shakhnavarov

Another great writer who has contributed to world cinema was Nikolai Gogol, who was actually Ukrainian and died in 1898.  Forbidden to write in his native tongue he was a well accepted in Russian.  Many of his books and short stories have been the basis for movies.  Some English language examples are "Inspector General" with Danny Kaye and "Taras Bulba" with Tony Curtis that I saw as a young boy.  Two other noteworthy movies in different languages were "the Overcoat" and "The Forty First."  "The Namesake" was an American-Bollywood film that referred to Gogol in the title.  The parent of the protagonist once survived a train crash holding onto a book by Gogal and decided to name his first born Gogol.  A very enjoyable movie.

"Silent Souls" (2010) is  a love story after the death of the wife with flashbacks, but also reverence given for death rituals. The two lovers were not glamorous emphasizing the beauty of true love.   Won some awards at the Venice Film Festival.

No comedies found in my search.  The closest was "Bury me behind the baseboard" (2009) based on a biographical novel by Pavel Sanaev who himself is noted as a script writer, and director .    The book apparently had lots of humour and not having read the book I thought the film did in fact have some humour using exaggerations (of apparently real events).

"Crime and Punishment" (2007 )was one of the difficult reads for me, but mind boggling, the way Fyodor Doestoevski could get inside the mind.  The only Russian version I could get was a tv mini series (416 minutes spread over 8 episodes).  One of the most classic cat and mouse games with a police inspector angling to get a confession from the protagonist.  Well done.

"My Joy" (2010) belied its title as a story of corruption and violence.  Missed a line where one character is killed for suggesting Ukraine might have been better off if Christian Nazis had won.  What did catch my eye is the director/Writer, Sergei Loznitsa directed "Maidan" about the Ukrainian revolt of 2013/14 from peaceful protest to violence.  Sergei was born and raised in Ukraine, graduating as a scientist/mathematician with an interest in artificial intelligence.  He subsequently studied film in Russia and had been involved in a number of Russian movies.

"Stalingrad" (2013) critized as not really being the story of the famous battle.  It really is a segment in the middle.  Tries to show Germans as humans.  A romance (really two), but mainly demonstrating Russian resilience, something Americans overlook in their assumption they won the war.

"Pussy Riot:  a Punk Prayer" (2013) really gets into modern protests.  It was produced and directed by Mike Lerner, a documentary maker who has worked with BBC and PBS and Maxim Pozdorovkin, Russian born, Harvard educated.  It astonishing how much access they were allowed, including the three members of the Pussy Riot and their parents, Vladiimir Putin, and the prosecuting attorney. --Not a secret, but I had been unaware that Putin is aligning himself with the Russian Orthodox church.  The film follows from the obscenity charge up to an appeal with flashbacks.  There is some explicit sex acts depicted as part of an art exhibit.

Russia has always felt a bit of an outsider in Europe, but has indeed contributed to European culture and even world culture.  If we could only get along better with them they would contribute even more.  Unfortunately Russia has fallen back into a dictatorship and have tried to influence European and American elections for their own greedy desperate ends.  But we can appreciate their technical skills and psychological understanding.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Donald Trump's motives may not be pure (they're not), but he raised an issue that makes me pause for a moment.  It is obvious that statues of Confederate warriors have raised emotions with terrible racial implications.  The removal of some of them has become a point of contention for white racial groups to rally against as a way of asserting their sick beliefs.  On the other hand there are others who think they should all be pulverized.

Perhaps some of us can reduce the issue to a personal level.  In my case I was dismayed to learn that some of my ancestors (on both my mother and father's side) were members of the Orange Lodge.  I imagine they did some good things, but what bothers me is that they were very anti-Catholic.  A few generations later I see Catholics as people first, some of whom are relatives and others are friends.  In Hamilton I am reminded of them almost every weekend when I walk by what used to be a Orange Lodge.  Ironically when their membership ran out of money a group of Catholic Portuguese  took over the building.  When I walk by I feel a small tinge of shame and recognize that hatred is potentially in all of us.

An historical benefactor of the city of Hamilton, Sir Allan McNab was a key person in putting down the Rebellion of 1837.  In theory I sided with the rebels who did in time force changes in the government, but it cannot be denied Sir Allan McNab accomplished a lot of good things.  If you are in the area have a look at Dundurn Castle (I drive by almost every day).

ISIS members demolished some ancient temples that had been standing for over 3,000 years. Westerners believe that proves how barbaric Al Quaeda (and by extension all Muslims) are.  The radical Islamists felt they were blasphemous.  Many others thought they were beautiful and historical.

Trump suggested that after the Confederate general statues were dismantled that the public would then move on to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who were both slave owners.  One key difference is that the Confederate generals killed to help break up the country while the founding fathers helped to establish the country.

Thomas Jefferson has been a key figure in two blogs that partially explain his situation.   Edward E Baptist relates just how critical slavery was to the United States and the role played by Thomas Jefferson amongst others;      In a fictional account, Stephen O'Connor speculates, using some historic evidence on Jefferson's relationship with a mulatto slave, Sally Hemmings:

Robert E. Lee after surrendering for the Confederacy had been asked to endorse a statue of himself.  He refused saying he felt it would retard the healing process the nation had to undergo.  Isn't that a concern?  Many of the statues were built in the twentieth century as blacks were asserting their rights more effectively and have become a slap to modern blacks.

Many otherwise good people have a blemish on their reputation.  Are we to judge them for their sins or look at the whole person and realize that we are all human and subject to a wide range of faults?

What to do?  History should not be ignored as that causes another set of problems.  But when an offensive statue is placed  in a prominent location those in charge have to decide how to go forth.  Do they want to be known for being offensive to local citizens and visitors?   In some cases a logical place might be a museum where we can be reminded of our past follies.  Racists may well focus on the symbolism of their distorted beliefs, but the rest of us can say that artifact is historical.  What about the empty space left behind?  Sometimes that says a lot, but sooner or later someone will be inspired for something else.

The photo is of the building that used to belong to the Orange Lodge, but now belongs to the Vasco Da Gama football club.  I believe that is King William on his horse fighting the Irish Catholics.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Best Kind of People

Many libraries have adopted a practice of singling out a book as a community project.  The Hamilton Public Library for its Hamilton Reads program has selected "The Best Kind of People" by Zoe Whitall.  It covers a theme that we are becoming more aware of.  Sexual offences affects not only the victim and the perpetrator, but families, friends and co-workers.  Too often it catches the by standers totally off guard.  A bolded statement on the back cover sums up what the reader is about to explore, "what if someone you trusted was accused of the unthinkable?"

Zoe depicts a standout character, George Woodbury who everyone admires.  He is a perennial Teacher of the Year who had in one dramatic moment stopped a deranged sniper in a school.  His wife Joan is in charge of the trauma unit at the local hospital.  And their daughter Sadie is school student president and accomplished scholar.  An older son, Andrew lives in New York and is a practicing lawyer and living in an open gay relationship with Jared.  They and others are all due to be impacted.

Very early in the narration the exemplary teacher George is accused of sexual assault and attempted rape from four school girls on a trip supervised by George.  He proclaims his innocence and many people support him, including the mayor.  His family of course disbelieves the accusers not only verbally, but also internally.  The reader is not sure, even to the end.

His guilt or innocence is never really resolved, but that is almost inconsequential.  The focus of the book is on his family who suffer not only the slings and arrows from much of their community, but also self doubt.

A lot of side issues develop including a writer living with the daughter's boyfriend's mother.  He had a successful first novel, but has been wrestling with writing ever since.  The accused's daughter moves in to her boyfriend's house with an understanding and tolerant mother.  The author having problems of motivations becomes inspired by the local "scandal" causing another level of problems and misunderstandings.

I would normally think there is some unnecessary sex, (uneccesaary except for marketing) but the author is possibly demonstrating that we are all sexual creatures.  There is a significant mariujuana culture involving a few of the characters.

The accused in jail is looking at a long wait for a trial.  In the meantime many assume guilt and the family is scorned or pitied by most.  Support groups and therapy are part of the coping mechanisms and various views are presented.  One that carries through the novel is that males are too often unfairly treated.

The family members all love George and admire him, but come to feel that he might be guilty and question how they should respond.  A sister of Joan's brings up the idea of divorce, which is resisted, but also pondered.

Everyone is changed and generally not for the better.  You the reader may not have given the situation much thought before, but some of you will get a surprise in the future and maybe this book will give you a little helpful perspective

The author, Zoe Whitall now has four novels and 3 poetry collections under her belt.  Her first book, "Bottle Rocket Hearts" was acknowledged by the Globe and Mail as Best book of the year.  She also received a Dayne Ogilvy grant.  "The Best Kind of People was short listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. as well as being a Heather's Pick at Indigo.  She also published a book written for adults with low literary skills.  Born and raised in Quebec she is now living in Toronto where she contributes to magazines and is working on a television show.  She will attend meetings where the public can meet her in October.  You can learn more about her at:

The Hamilton Public Library  partnering with the Sexual Assault Center for Hamilton and Area  with a number of workshops including, homophobia (and sexism, etc), indigenous sexual violence, allying with survivors, male sexual abuse and much more.  There are still a few opportunities to get involved left and if you are interested go to:

To read about 2017 reading programs for both the Hamilton and Burlington libraries check this link:

Friday, July 28, 2017

Bollywood Playback singers

Bollywood likes to have actors that look good, dance good and connected, but they don't require singing ability.  They rely on unseen playback singers, but don't worry that they are neglected.  They have their own fan base and are in demand for movies and concert halls around the world.

Their music has changed with Bollywood taking on rock but also keeping traditional and unique Indian instruments and rhythms.  A digeridoo was used in "Dil Chata Hai" which was partially set in Australia.

Check out some of the links--even when filtered through western tastes you will find some very enjoyable music.  There is also a lot of variety meaning if one link turns you off, it is likely another will work for you.  You will find an American pop star amongst the links.

Lata Mangeshkar is perhaps the singer with the longest reputation.  She started singing for movies in 1942 and has sung for over 1,000.  I remember reading decades ago (before I had any interest in Bollywood) that she had sold out Maple Leaf Gardens.  The link is to a critical scene in a famous breakthrough movie (for Shah Rukh Khan) and sung with Kumar Sanu

Her sister Asha Bhonsle is slightly less famous and is still active in her 80's.  A modern example comes from  "Queen" with the song "Hungana ho Gaya"  with Arijit Singh and perhaps is the most pulsating song in this post.  You can read more about Kangana Ranaut, the star and about the movie:

Mohit Chauhan graduated from geology, but turned to  singing with a band called Silk Route and could play guitar, harmonica and flute.   He was recruited by A R Rahman, but got his big break from Pritam Chakraborty.  "Tum Se Hi" from "Jab We Met" is considered one of the most romantic tunes

Mohit has a duet with Alyssa Mendonza in "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, with "Khaabon Ke Parinday,"  Mohit doesn't come in until towards the end, but this is a delightful picture of a very contented man played by Hrithik Roshan.  A small herd of horses running beside the car got my attention.

Sonu Nigam started singing at age 4 with his father and moved up to Bollywood at age 18.   Like most Bollywood singers he performs in many languages.   From "Agneepath" is a great song "Abhi Mujh Mein Kahi"  Another blockbuster song with Alka Yagnik,  He also sang "Kal Ho na Ho," another favourite with Shah Rukh Khan lip synching.

Shreya Ghosal  famous in North America for her version of song used in "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," (originally from "Jab We Met") but this is better  She has sung in Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam and Kannada.  She has a wax figure done for Madame Tussaud's Museum.

Sunidhi Chauhan started singing at age 4 and made her Bollywood debut at age 13.  She has sung with Enrique Iglesias.  She teams up with dancer Katrina Kaif for a very sexy dance number (this is no exaggeration):  See below for two other duets where she really shines.

Shankar Mahadevan is one third of my favourite musical team, Shankar Ehsaan Loy that wrote many of the songs in this post.  For some reason I didn't quite credit Shankar with many of the songs he helped compose, but he also sings others.  This first link is a bit unusual as a blues song.  " Doli re doli"  They brought in some seasoned blues performers to enhance the effect

A little more of what one expects from Shankar who is part of a group singing from "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara", a song he helped write, "Dil Dhadakne Do".

Shankar duet with Sunidhi Chauhan in what translates to "Bubble song"  This is one of my most favourite videos.  It is fanciful and fits the song.

Farhan Akhtar started as a director, writer, producer before acting and is one of the independents who is allowed to sing many of his own songs.  "Rock On" is a good example and one of the interesting songs "Socha Hai"

In "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara he got his co-stars Hrithik Roshan (generally considered best male dancer in Bollywood) and Abhay Deol to also sing in "SeƱorita," a song used by the Spanish Tourist Board.  There is an unusual pause in the song that helps dramatize it.

Farhan is one of the great Bollywood cinema forces with singing just an extra talent.

Arijit Singh is now considered the hot singer.  He started as a musical director and producer, but won lots of awards including in 2013 best upcoming male vocalist.  He plays several instruments and sings in several languages.    One of my favourites  is the title song from "Hamari Adhuri Kahani"

Another favourite is a duet with Sunidhi Chauhan, " Darkhaast" They each solo, but play very well against one another.

Shakthisree Gopalan mostly sings in Tamil, although has done Hindi and Engllish.  Here is a Tamil song that is also my overall top ITunes song, "Nenjukkule" written by A R Rahman

Having worked with A R Rahman she was given a chance to sing  this is incidentally the first and only movie where Shah Rukh Khan kissed the heroine on the lips--Katrina Kaifa.  This is a duet with Javed Ali on "Jab Tak Hai Jaan"

Akon, a well known American hip hop artist was brought to India to do "Chamak Challo," a very infectious dance tune giving Shah Rukh Khan and Kareen Kapoor a chance to really show off,

Many movie goers feel music intrudes too much, but others feel it enhances emotions.  Many Bollywood DVDs include the songs and often you relive the movie through the songs.