Sunday, May 24, 2015

Anuska Sharma, actress on the rise

Anuska Sharma has gotten my attention as a bubbly attractive female, but lately has expanded and really drawn my admiration.  Born in 1988 in Bangalore to an army officer father.  Anushka was more interested in modelling than acting, but of course a few models do end up acting, usually picked for their looks and personality.

Her first film was "Rab de Bana Di Jodi" in 2008 directed and written by Aditya Chopra,  starring Shah Rukh Khan.  The movie set up a contrast between a drab husband and a younger active girl--of course we know Shah Rukh is no drab guy and creates an alter ego to win the love of his wife by luring her into being a dance partner for a contest although she does not recognize him.  Basically she played an attractive bubbly great dancer who felt a conflict between her dance partner and her husband which of course was happily resolved.

"Badmaa$h Company" followed in 2010 where she was paired off with Shahid Kapoor and both were con artists with shady business practices.  A little expansion in acting requirements displaying the confidence that defines a con artist and a little conflict with her lover.

"Wedding Planners"came next  in the same year with a bigger role.  As the star Anushka given a wider range of emotions to display.  Ranveer Singh debuted opposite her and this was a very popular pairing with what critics like to call chemistry.  Both of them made a breakthrough with this popular movie and for awhile were a couple in real life.

In fact in 2011 with one movie in between "Ladies vs Ricky Bahl" paired the two again.  The first part sets up Ranveer as a con man taking advantage of vulnerable women.  Parineeti Chopra makes her debut and has gone onto bigger roles (and is one my favourites).  Anushka makes her first appearance an hour into the movie and shows she can take advantage of the lady killer.  It won't surprise you that she humbles him, but it should impress you how she does it.

"Patiala House" released a little earlier in 2011 paired Anushka with Akshay Kumar, set in London England.  Anushka played a mixed race woman getting involved in a family feud.  Apparently one of Akshay's better movies.

In "Jab Tak Hai Jaan," released in 2012 she played in movie where Shah Rukh Khan made his first on lip kiss, but not with her.  She played a meddling bubbly reporter.  Not many actresses enjoy playing the second lead, but this was the first time for her and gave her a chance to be a part of Yash Chopra's last movie as a director.

I didn't see her next film with Imran Khan, "Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola" and she apparently played another exuberant role.  Pankaj Kapur played her father.

"PK" written and directed by Rajkumar Hirani, in 2014  followed and it is as close to a masterpiece as she has been in. Aamir Khan chose this vehicle for a religious satire and again she was a bubbly reporter, but her comic timing was in full display.  She also shows a short hair cut for the first time that takes a little getting used to.  I enjoyed this movie so much I devoted a post to it.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/03/pk.html

"NH10" released in 2015 (standing for National Highway 10) is what inspired this blog.  This movie turned into an action thriller and she carried the movie.  She was a producer for the first time and perhaps that gave her the opportunity to really demonstrate her range.  She was a more mature married professional woman with a level of sophistication and displayed some romanticism.  Then the movie turned violent, with her first as a victim and then the revenger.  This was a woman centric role, very slickly done. She intends to get involved in producing with a few projects being discussed.

Her next movie is fairly recent and I have not had a chance to see it.  "Bombay Velvet" directed and written by Anurag Kashyap and starring Ranbir Kappor was touted as a block buster, but fizzled at the box office.  It was said that Anurag tried a different narrative style that did not strike a chord with his fan base.

She is working on "Dil Dhadakne Do" directed and written by Zoya Akhtar with a multi star cast and apparently is paired with Ranveer Singh once again, but they are no longer a couple.  She is dating Vir Kohli an Indian cricket star.  It looks like she is the second leading lady with Priyanka Chopra the first female attraction.  This has the markings of a big hit.

Recently announced for a 2016 release "Ae Dil Hai Mushkil" with Karan Johar directing and Aishawarya Rai Bachchan continuing her come back.  Anushka will be playing the second lead again.  If an actress can hold her ego in check, playing second fiddle can lead to meaningful movies and roles.

If you are into Bollywood movies you already like her and if you haven't checked out Bollywood, she is a good place to start.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

YOU"LL FIND ARAB AND HEBREW PERSPECTIVES IN ISRAELI FILMS

When I first contemplated this project I had some strong beliefs about Israel and I have not changed them.  I am sympathetic to the BDS program and believe the Israeli settlements on the west bank are unnecessarily provocative and likely disastrously counter-productive.  However we should never put up barriers to ideas.  I think of films as ideas and I was surprised at how open minded Israeli films can be--let us not close that opening to better understanding.  Some of the movies mentioned would reflect the views of the boycotters.

Hebrew was mainly a language used only for religious services and not spoken by many people before the nineteenth century.  Yiddish was common, but considered a slang language.  Jews started returning to their ancient land in the 1800's and sought a common language with Hebrew being the obvious choice.  Zionists in Europe also saw a need to adopt Hebrew and encouraged schools and forced themselves to learn it.  Film is just one avenue to help establish the language.

Israel is considered a liberal country and to my amazement it is demonstrated in the films I was able to watch.  But there is controversy.  Israeli films are split between Hebrew and Arabic and often combining both.  There are four film funds in Israel that help finance movies and they have financed a number of controversial choices.  Suha Arraf who considers herself a Palestinian received some financing from the Israel Film Fund and then entered her film "Villa Toume" to the Venice Film Festival in 2014 stating that it was a Palestinian film.  The financers asked for their money back and another fund wanted to make it a requirement that films be described from Israel.  Others feel political pressures should be resisted.  My local library carried a number of Israeli films in both languages.

I wanted to see if there was any understanding between the Arabs and the Jews.  The films for the most part display a reality of Jews not trusting Arabs and vice versa, but also show that it is possible to overcome the barriers.  My hope is that more of that happens in the future.

"Exodus" made a very strong impression on me as a youngster and I later read the book.  It gave me great admiration for the Israelis and in fact without realizing it Zionists were my heroes.  I became a Paul Newman fan as well.  In fact, past my university days I described this as my favourite movie.

Another earlier perspective on Israel came from Chaim Topol who in 2015 was awarded a lifetime achievement award by Israel.  Best known as Teyve in "Fiddler on the Roof" on both stage (over 3,000 performances) and film.  Born in Tel Aviv he became involved with theatre while in the Israeli army in the 1950's.  Topol got attention in "Salleh" (not seen) which became the top Israeli box office success for its time and got attention of Americans.  He was included in "Cast A Giant Shadow,"  (not seen yet).  Went onto do other films and on stage.

I have also seen a number of Holocaust related films pretty well every year making me aware that the Jews suffered like no other group.  Some I recall are "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas," "Sarah's Key," "The Counterfeiters," "Ida," "The Book Thief," "The Black Book" and "Twin Sisters" and many more earlier.

My views started to widen when Hiam Abass got my attention in an American movie, "The Visitor" causing me to look up other movies she was in.  "The Syrian Bride," "Lemon Tree" and "Disengagement" all demonstrated an Arab perspective.  She apparently lives in France where she has done French movies, but is often used in films with a Mid-East element and has done other English language films.   Check out more of her career:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/04/hiam-abbass-always-leaves-impression.html  She is co-directing a film with Joseph Cedar, "Jerusalem I Love You"

Another perspective developed when "Footnote" was nominated for Best Foreign Language Oscar.  It won a screen writing award at Cannes.   It revolved around a misunderstanding on a very technical detail between two Talmudic scholars. It just happened to be a father and son who were estranged. This was my first viewing of Lior Askhkenazi who played the son.  Directed and written by Joseph Cedar.  A very good relationship story.

Later I watched Lior in two other films.  "Walk on Water" where he played an assassin who was asked to befriend the grandson of a Nazi officer.  The grandson happened to be gay and befriended a Palestinian gay while visiting.  Both the grandson and grand daughter were embarrassed by their Nazi connections.  Their Grandfather did in fact show up for a birthday in Berlin, but the Jewish secret agent was reluctant to kill the target.  I was struck by Lior's dry humour and timing although he was also deadly serious as an assassin. or a man with a troubled conscience.

I then went watched him in "Rabies,"  Israel's first horror movie.  Full of blood and guts and a little black humour.

"Lebanon" came out in 2009 and was set in the 1982 Lebanon War.  It is really about brutality, tense relationships and claustrophobia.  It is taken from the viewpoint of an armoured tank crew with one squeamish gun man.  We watch innocent people caught up in the war and a terrified Syrian prisoner  We see a lot of killing, severed limbs and fear.  At the actual time Israel denied using phosphorous bombs, but later admitted it and it was depicted in this movie.  I had to check it out--phosphorous was used by the Americans and British in World War II and it was used in the Vietnamese War, but had become controversial because of its unusual painful results and was to be avoided in civilian areas.  It was also noted that Israel was proven to have used it in the recent Gaza invasion.  This film won several awards on the festival circuit.

"Beaufort" was set at an army post inside Lebanon before the planned withdrawal.  Soldiers feeling powerless-and often felt they were obeying orders that didn't make sense.  The enemy was never shown, just the results of artillery and bombs.  Directed by Joseph Cedar and also nominated for an Oscar.  Joseph Cedar will be directing an English language film, "Oppenheimer's Strategies."

"Operation Thunderbolt" is one of the epic stories explaining why many of us admire Israelis.  An airplane was hi-jacked with many Jews on board. The kidnappers eventually transferred to  the Entebbe airport  in Uganda where they felt they would be safe.  Israeli combat troops immediately gathered intelligence and started training.  Looking back it still seems one of the most remarkable exploits of the twentieth century.  This movie helps convey the tension and the determination to rescue fellow Jews and not rely on outsiders.

"The Gatekeepers" is a documentary that was criticized by right wing elements for its content from former security chiefs that critized the current rulers.  Very frank.  Nominated for best Oscar documentary feature.  This was a very direct assault on current Israeli policies.

"Ajami" in a subtle way pointed out that most Israeli Jews do not speak Arabic, while more Arabs do speak Hebrew (cf Canada where more francopones are bilingual than Anglopones).  Another of the Arab-Israeli conflict with some caught in the middle.  This one was co-written and co-directed by Scandar Copti, a Palestinian and Yaron Shani, a Jew and won attention at the Cannes Film Festival as well as an Oscar nomination.

"Out in the Dark" was unique.  We are all familiar with lovers of different races, religions, classes and the hoops they have to jump through and we also know gays have their own special problems, but in Israel you can top it up with Arab-Jew gay relationships.  One man is Jewish, open to his family and the other is Palestinian who is in the closet at home.  Blackmail and spying are the themes.

"Bethlehem" is about how an Israeli security agent develops a relationship with a Palestinian through trickery.  Again blackmail forces the action.  A complex situation with no one all right or all wrong.

"The Flat" was an uncomfortable documentary by Aron Goldsmith who learned his grandparents were close friends with a SS member before and after the war.  One person pointed out that the German Nazi friend enjoyed conversing with his grand father and their wives also got along very well, even going on vacation as a foursome. Another person pointed out that the Germans wanted to get rid of the Jews and the Zionists wanted  to get to Israel so there was some co-operation.

"There were Nights" directed by Ron Ninio gave insights into directing theatre was mainly about a father-daughter relationship under stress and played by an actual father, daughter.

"Operation Grandma"  was actually from tv. . Read that it is one of the funniest Israeli comedies.  I think of many Jewish comedians as being subtle, but this tv production was more direct and loud.

As I write this a new Israeli film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival.  It has been directed, written, produced and starred in by Natalie Portman.  Natalie was born in Jerusalem to Jewish parents who took her to the States.  Now that she has established herself as a major star she is able to do her own projects.  The movie is based on a biography of Amos Oz who since 1967 has been a prominent advocate for a two state solution.  Also starring Makrom Khoury as Amos.  Makrom a Palestinian was the first Arab to win the highest Israeli prize for artists and also appeared in  the "Syrian Bride" and "The Lemon Tree."

Amos Oz is a very interesting person.  He supports Israel's right to defend itself and in fact participated in military action on a number of occasions.  In 2011 Oz wrote to the New York Times, "Hamas is not just a terrorist organization.  Hamas is an idea that grew out of desolation and frustration of many Palestinians.  No idea has ever been defeated by force.  To defeat an idea you have to have a better idea."  He has also expressed opposition to settlements on the West Bank.  His concept of two states goes further than many including Jerusalem being divided into several sections including for Eastern Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish.

Israeli films will give give their own unique perspective, but there is more than just politics.  There are people with a diverse viewpoint, but you will recognize the usual human dilemmas  Saudi Arabia had its first feature, dealing with women, but it was done undercover with no government blessing.  Iran has produced some very good movies ("Separation "deservedly won an Oscar) but lots of problems regarding censorship.  Cinema is just one avenue into understanding, but only if it is open.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Movie Ratings....What's your take?

Movie Ratings.  I look at them, do you?  I have contributed to them, how about you?  In one sense the ratings are merely a popularity contest with only a slight connection to merit--even slimmer link to your personal preferences.




Movie ratings are a short cut to making decisions.  If you are just planning a weekend outing to visit a movie theatre and maybe eat out you might have ten choices to make or maybe just two after you eliminate all the "crazy" or inappropriate ones  There is a lot of hype to get your attention and maybe some comments from your friends.  A rating can make the choice a little easier.

How about confronted with a choice of DVDs at your library or convenience store?  There can be a very wide range of choices from old to almost current  and very diverse genres.  Maybe when go home you check out a few ratings for your next trip.  Or maybe you use your smart phone on the spot.

Streaming services offer an even wider range of options.  I was impressed by Netflix who after evaluating my film choices would give me personalized ratings of other films based on those choices.  Still I would look for other ratings.

The ratings can easily be distorted and when you see films that are only .1 different you really are in danger of making a mistake against your own aesthetic preferences.

Have you noticed there are often very high ratings on just opened new movies, but that over time the ratings seem to come down?  More rarely you may see a movie move up in ratings.

Genres such as action films create expectations.  Viewers looking for blood, speed and explosive action can be very reactive to movies that don't rise above previous films.  Those looking for titillation can also be cruel to lesser or shorter displays of skin.  Romance can also cause disappointment if they don't work out to fantasized scripts.

The biggest gap seem to be between what might be called "art" films and those for the mainstream.  Supposedly art films are a little more difficult to understand and the popular movies go for the jugular straightaway.

Have you ever contributed to a rating?  I have and if I am being honest I am not totally honest.  One factor is called "anchoring" which just means you start with the established rate and either move it up or down depending on how much you agree with the crowd--but of course you are already influenced by the crowd.  Then there is the concept of fairness--do I think the crowd gave it an honest look and in some cases I attempt to correct their error possibly by over compensating.  Then I admit I like to promote what I like and discourage what I don't like.  I am not sure how objective I am as it all seems in comparison to what others have decided.

Some people have a vested interest in the ratings and not just those with a financial stake in a production.  Probably most obvious when a movie first comes out which is why ratings start high and then get lower as others view the film.  If you are an early adopter type (for movies at least) you have a vested egotistical interest in boosting your choice.  Many of us are fans or celebrity watchers--we boost our heroes (established in previous movies)---others of us like to think we are very discriminating and tough

Different systems;  4 star, 5 star, ten--increments.  When you look at Olympic judges where decimals can go out to 3 or more places.  It really comes down to a ranking system--is this one better then that one, then what about this one that sort of fits in between?   Rotten Tomatoes gathers as many official reviewers as possible and simply decides if a review is fresh or rotten, although it sometimes seems  arbitrary as many reviews contain both positive and negative points.

What can you do?  There are only so many leisure hours in a day and going beyond movies there is a lot of competition for your attention.  Of course we look for something we can trust so we tend to gravitate towards a reliable reviewer or system.  Something that reinforces our own bias and prejudice.  Occasionally we are disappointed, but on the whole this natural process works for most of us.

You can spend a lot of time evaluating movie choices.  Does the time add to your enjoyment?  Or does the time merely subtract the time watching?

When I went to high school (over forty five years ago when there was a grade 13) Shakespeare was always a part of the course.  The average high school student really is bored with the straight reading of Shakespeare and going into minute details seems like torture.  The words already strange sounding are made more mysterious with colloquial meanings.  At one point it annoyed me that the teacher could get so serious about such little details.  As I get older I appreciate many of those little details, because they add up to a different deeper impression when understood better.

Those who read my reviews and comments might be struck with my diversity, but really I avoid some categories altogether.  At the same time I fear being stuck in a rut.  There is a huge world out there with lots of beautiful and interesting things I am totally unaware of.  As you open up possibilities the choices can get more difficult.

Film festivals are my favourite place to start.  I trust the selection committees to make some good choices.  A really popular movie with strong financing doesn't need festivals as much as the more arty type of movies.  There is little danger of missing a popular movie, particularly in a genre you already favour, but without the big bucks small movies too often get overlooked.  Winning an award at a film festival gives some promotion and helps to attract money.  Most festivals now have audience awards that reflect consumer popularity.  The more awards the more publicity.  Independent movies, known as "Indies" are not financed by the big studios and find festivals critical to getting launched.

Reading reviews is also key, but not just one.  It is amazing going over the reviews at IMDB the contrast of opinions on the same movie.  In fact often my choice is not made with someone I find agreeable, but with someone not so agreeable--I choose to seek out what they reject.  Many people seem to favour movies with established stars or directors or writers.  Unfortunately I have discovered they all need the money and/or attention.  In Bollywood I am most impressed with Aamir Khan--he is in big demand, but is a very conscientious thinker, selecting one movie a year and going into a great deal of preparation.  Actors able to act in different languages also seem to have more freedom--Mads Mikklesen can be seen in Danish, English and French, usually at a high level.  At one time a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock was pretty much a guarantee of a masterful suspense film.

In small markets there are few arty movies shown and they usually only last for a short run at best.  Maybe I am just too cheap, but most of my movie viewing is by DVD and increasingly with streaming and there you have a tremendous amount of choice, but you have to wait longer than movie goers for the new films.

Photos:  The three movie posters are from movies that had high ratings and lived up to the hype.  Partly because some individuals are indicators of potential quality.  They are selected for their power and they usually make good decisions.  Alfred Hitchcock, Mads Mikkelson and Aamir Khan.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A feel good movie a little off the beaten path Dum Laga ke Haisha

How do you feel about arranged marriages?  We all like to think love conquers all and love to see it come true on the movie screen.  Reality for some is not so scripted.

In 'Dum Laga ke Haisha" Prem, in his twenties is puttering around in his father's music cassette business which is having financial problems.  The father is looking for a way out.  They approach the local temple for some guidance seeking a bride who can earn some money for their son.  They find Sandhya who has two strikes against  her in Prem's view--she is overweight and she is better educated.  Nevertheless Prem's parents seeing her job prospects and her pleasant demeanour push him into the marriage.

The first night after their wedding is very awkward and the next morning Sandhya tells a friend by telephone that the marriage was not consummated and his family overhears.  Prem is upset being forced into this arrangement and eventually both want to end the marriage.  Taken to a divorce court the judge decides they must live together for 60 days and then he will grant a divorce.  In the meantime Prem fails for the third time an English exam while Sandhya gets offered a teaching job out of town.

Yes, there are lots of little details and they gradually become more respectful of one another.  The climax comes from what might seem a sexist event where there is a race with husbands carrying their wives over an obstacle course.  This is referred to throughout the movie as Prem's parents took part in this annual event many years before.  It seems an humiliating event for the oversized bride but three factors bring about the choice to enter.  An aunt who had been abandoned by her husband a decade before learns of his death and regrets that she never enjoyed her marriage and urges her nephew and Sandhya to do something together while they still can.  Prem has regularly attended a club where fitness is encouraged and other members are taking part in the race. There is a monetary prize that could be a big incentive, but really that seems impossible.

The race will be no surprise for romantic viewers, and it does lead to a greater appreciation of each other from the couple.  Hope I haven't spoiled the ending, but it does fit the happy ending romantic genre.

Set in the 1990's in Haridwar, India with a lot of attention paid to the environment.  Haridwar was noted as one of the holiest cities in India, but there are few indications of that.  Cassettes were being replaced by compact discs.

Ayushmann Khurrana made a great impression in "Vicky Donar" and then appeared in three non impressive movies in a row.  Here he is offered an unusual pairing--not the sort you associate with big heart throb movie stars, but in accepting this role he probably did advance his career.

Bhuli Pednekar makes her film debut and portrays a woman who has been humiliated, but has lots to be proud of.  For this one movie she takes on the leading lady role and shows she deserves it.  Her acting skills will earn her more movie roles.

The supporting cast does a capable job. Sanjay Mishra is making his mark in character roles, although not too long ago he was the leading subject of "Ankhon Dekhi."

Sharat Katariya the director and writer deserves the most credit.  This is only his second movie as director, but he has been involved as writer in a number of films.  Relatively short by Bollywood standards with just enough scenes to convey the tensions and disappointments without belabouring them.

Kumar Sanu is at the very beginning on tape representing a big playback singer of the time and near the end sings live before the contest.  This part of the movie is nostalgia as Kumar was a playback singer for over 400 movies including two of my favourites, "Diwale Duhainia Le Jayenge  and "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai."


Editor Namrata Rao kept the flow under control  Edited for some other favourites," 2 States" and "Kahanni."  Currently edited  box office hit, 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!"

This low budget film was chosen for the closing night at the New York International Film Festival on the same day May 9th as I write about it.  Incidentally the Hindi title is translated into English as "My Big Fat Bride."--not sure if it is literal.

Another feel good movie with Ayushmann Khurrana is "Vicky Donor  It is about a reluctant sperm donor who hides his source of money while courting a bank employee.  There is lots of comedy, but at the end is very heart warming.

Read more details at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3495030/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_1

Friday, May 8, 2015

Where Horses bring learning to life

In a previous blog, horses were described helping humans with emotional problems, equine assisted psychotherapy, but they are also helpful for "normal" people, even corporate teams..  I met Tracey Evans at the Can-Am show and was impressed with her enthusiasm and then read an article in The Rider, the newspaper I work with about Dreamwinds Equine Assisted Learning Centre.

Horses are unique.  Their size frightens many, but in fact they can be very gentle.  They are also very perceptive and will give feedback.  They offer a unique opportunity for humans to develop their potential.  Many people are fortunate to already know this, but in our urbanized world many of us have lost the connection.  


Looking for something different for your staff?  Want something more than sitting down and watching power point displays?  Dreamwinds Equine Assisted Learning Centre  in Bradford, Ontario offers a unique program for business people wanting to expand their horizons.

For staff to be most effective they need to work together and to do that they need to trust one another and communicate.  Dreamwinds can customize programs to help build your team.

They offer diagnostic assessments, snacks to catered meals, a boardroom and most of all horses. Tracey Evans has a background in marketing that includes American Express.  But her real love is horses and she has learned how they can be very helpful in developing business skills.  She trained at the Cartier Farms in Saskatchewan to become a certified equine assisted learning instructor.

Of course there is a lot more at Dreamwinds.  They have programs for women, youth, families and how to become certified.  Again we see that there is a place for horses in the modern world.


Find out more and check out the videos http://www.dreamwinds.ca

You can also read a previous blog about equine assisted psychotherapy at http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/11/horses-in-modern-world-psychotherapy.html

POST EDIT:  Just a few hours after my original post I learned from The Rider that Dreamwinds has already won two business awards.  From the Bradford Board of Trade they have been earned Best New Business Award for 2014.  From the South Simcoe they were recently awarded Entrepreneur of the Year.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

OMAR KHADR CHILD SOLDIER AND CANADIAN LAW

Did you see Omar Khadr's mother and sister's lambasting of Canadians?  I did and it was upsetting.  How ungrateful can one be?  That is the atmosphere Omar grew up with.  His parents were able to take him out of Canadian schools to Afghanistan where his father was well acquainted with Osama bin Laden.

Canada helped draft and was one of the first to sign an international agreement against the recruitment and use of child soldiers.  They must have been concerned about what happens in Africa, but when they were really tested they failed.  Although Omar is often pictured as our most concrete symbol of terrorist evil, in reality he is more a poster boy for the evils of child soldiers.

Different versions of what happened confuse the issue, but it seems certain people were killing one another.  I am sure Omar felt an affinity with his comrades and acted like most would in a vicious gang fight, especially when he was also attacked.  Perhaps we wonder why he couldn't rise above it all and see the opportunity to get on the right side.  That is a lot to expect of a 15 year old.  This was part of George Bush's "War on  Terror that in its different theatres has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.  Most of them were not labeled murder.

Canadians take it for granted that we have a legal system that makes us superior to less civilized nations.  Omar Khadr saw very little of what might be considered reasonable legal procedures.  His lawyers have stated that he was tortured in various ways including water boarding and that he was coerced into confession.  

The Harper government is embarrassing us again.  Why are we the only western government not to stick up for our own citizens?  Why are they still trying to curtail his freedom?  It has been said that we don't want to offend the Americans.  Perhaps that is true, but I don't think it is the government they are afraid of offending, but the conservative opposition to the American government.  Maybe even more basic is the evangelical component.

There is really not a lot to decide.  Do we hold 15 year olds responsible for their parents' direction?

Omar has overcome a lot of barriers and is now set to start a new life.  Will we give him a chance/

Monday, May 4, 2015

SEX IN THE ONTARIO CLASSROOM

Ontario recently announced an upgrade to their sex education program and although some people are in favour, others are adamantly opposed.  To me it is a choice between the classroom and the streets.  Some parents may think they are protecting their children from the awful facts, but in most cases they are fooling themselves or letting their children in for a big shock sooner or later.

Do the details matter?  Yes, but who should be the judge?  As  a parent I can identify with the desire to protect one's children.  I heard somewhere that one of the driving forces is that children are reaching puberty at an earlier age which means if we want to have a positive influence on their attitudes we have to start a bit younger.

My parents were at one stage quite open with me.  My mother and father together set me aside one evening and explained a fair amount of detail, and relating it to my personal life.  My mother especially surprised me with her openness which gave me a female point of view.  I was enlightened, but at about age 12 they were already a few years too late.  My introduction was with what might be called "dirty jokes" and constantly objectifying females.  There was lots I didn't understand and my parents helped clarify my thinking.

On the subject of homosexuality there was little but tittering.  As a married adult I basically had homophobic tendencies, but seldom thought about it.  I was invited to a party hosted by two male gay acquaintances of my wife and was surprised none of the other husbands attended although a few married women did.  What struck me then and many times since is how normal most of them really are.  Of course what does normal mean?  Some gays are stereotypical, but I had probably related to dozens, if not hundreds without any awareness.  We are all individuals who should be respected.

I don't feel my introduction to the topic was ideal or abnormal.  Ultimately sex is very personal, essentially done in private, but that doesn't mean we as individuals and for society as a whole do not benefit from better knowledge and from an objective adult perspective.

Intimacy is not something to be made fun of.  One of the classroom topics is consent, something males have too often bypassed and too many females have been pressured past.  Misunderstandings of all sorts seem to be unavoidable, but intimacy at any level should only be with consent.

It is desirable that parents present their perspective on sex, but many would be relieved that some one could teach about it objectively. Some parents seem overly protective of their children's sex knowledge, but overlook that sooner or later, one way or another their children will learn.  Do they want it to be a shock?  Or do they want their children to feel it is "dirty?"  A bigger concern might be how to minimize teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual assaults, homophobia and on the other hand to maximize happiness.

The photo of flowers taken at the Hamilton Mum show is not meant as an euphemism, but just as something beautiful.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

EMIGRATION AND REFUGEES

Immigration frightens a lot of natives forcing us to adapt our life style.  Thousands of people are risking their lives and those of their loved ones.  We hear every week it seems of another boat sinking in the Mediterranean.  Not so long ago we heard about young children being sent up through Central America to the American border.  We know there are millions seeking refuge in western countries.

What would make most people leave the comforts of their home and contact with familiar family, friends and neighbours?   Some no doubt are seeking fortune and could be labeled greedy, but many others are motivated by fear.  Sitting in our comfortable western homes we both wonder why people would risk their lives and fear how they might change our lifestyle.

Trends that are easy to overlook or ignore are continuing to gather steam and it is time for mankind to ask what options we still have.  It is a global problem with causes and effects in every corner.

Mexico, central America and parts of South America are caught up in drug gang wars.  In poor countries it is common for desperate people to do desperate things.  Some have chosen to get involved with the drug trade.  Why is that so profitable?  It isn't because of domestic demand as most locals really can't afford it.  The truth is the demand comes from western countries.  We have more money, but we also have our own kind of despair.  In some cases it boils down to looking for bigger "kicks" and in other cases life seems meaningless.  Others can analyze the causes, but no one can deny the demand for illegal drugs emanates from the wealthier western countries.

In poorer countries those at the bottom have an opportunity to do the spade work (growing, packaging, transporting, selling locally) while others fight for the top where there is often huge profits.  Inevitably the power goes to the most ruthless.  This creates all sorts of other problems.  Drugs amongst the locals hurts health, productivity and feelings of self-worth.  Fighting causes fear.  It is not strange that so many parents in Central America want their children into a safer environment.

Fighting with different motivations is happening in the middle East, including northern Africa.  Literally millions of Syrians have fled their homes and for the most part have ended in refuge camps in nearby counties.  Western countries are reluctant and fearful to accommodate Muslims that they associate with terrorism. Others are willing to take advantage and charge for re-settling.

For decades western corporations with political support have been propping up dictators who were able to keep a lid on tensions.  There have always been what we might label "fanatics", but they were largely ignored or suppressed.  Now many gain attention and support as one way of fighting oppression.  Money that could have been spent on education and alleviation of poverty was spent on military weapons and security measures.  Oil was incredibly cheap and fuelled our lifestyle.  The fanatics are blaming misery on their dictators with their western support.  Just as some fanatics blame our disasters on our sinfulness, the Islamists are seizing the opportunity to blame their enemies and their religious lapses.  Religion is a powerful force that has been abused by many, but admittedly giving many others comfort.

I was surprised to learn in my family tree research that at least two branches of my family fled Europe for religious freedom.  One branch was literally on the boat, after the Mayflower with religious dissenters looking for freedom to worship.  One group actually ganged up together to flee through Indian territory to establish their own church.  Another branch were Mennonites who as anabaptists were persecuted in Europe.  Once established in America another generation felt they had to leave for Canada to avoid conscription.  Like many I have become detached from these earlier forces in my history.

There are many vested interests belittling concerns about Climate Change and they have found allies in fundamentalists, other religious factions and those invested with the status quo.  Scientists have been warning us for years with irrefutable evidence that there are going to be drastic changes.  Drought is having an impact in different parts of the world, now including California, but also Africa, the Middle East, Australia and elsewhere. We forget that agriculture is the base industry of the world--without food everything slows down.  It is only natural that people look for alternatives to make a living and to feed themselves.  In addition to droughts there are also floods and rising sea levels.  Storms are becoming more powerful and having more than just temporary inconveniences.  Bangladesh has developed a reputation for cheap labour which comes from desperation which in part comes from Climate change.

Economics is tied up in everything mentioned so far, but another strong trend is global inequality.  It is true that cheap labour is still in demand and that many poor countries are able to take advantage of rich corporations looking to lower their costs.  A bigger trend is that machines (including computers) are making production less and less dependent on human labour.  It is getting common to talk about the 1% in America, but at one level it seems so unreal.  How can a very few people have so much wealth and power?  Part of it is when they get enough traction they help set the rules and the rules are meant to protect their interests.  Another part is modern technology allows them to seek the lowest production costs which basically means at the expense of others.

Many people feel like they are on a sinking boat and are looking for a way off.  Literally that is what we are seeing in the Mediterranean.

All of this could be an opportunity.  Just as slavery relieved burdens and created wealth for some of our ancestors, machines could do the same more humanely for the benefit of everyone.  Clean energy, cleaning up the mess, education, could help re-balance our enviromen.  Obviously it would take a global effort to re balance some counter productive historical global efforts.  If everyone waits for someone else to make the first move the problems will increase.  Fortunately efforts are being made from different quarters, but at this stage they look like they are not gaining enough traction.

Knowledge could lead to greater awareness of our mutual interests, but that will not be enough.  We also have to develop trust.  Any efforts that boost education and awareness of the true reality will help, but it really boils down to political will.

A phrase credited to Scottish town planner Patrick Geddes,  "think globally act locally" seems appropriate for most of us.  Understanding the issues helps guide voting decisions--but more basically, questioning.  Individuals can only do so much, but understanding the issues and prioritizing choices is something that needs to be brought into the political arena.

At the moment political decisions seem very closely tied to vested interests.   Most of the vested interests seem very narrow so a goal would be to expand the viewpoint of those interests.  One result of increased wealth is greater security concerns in such forms as alarm systems and gated communities.  Does a wealthy person want to live like that or are they too fearful.  Fear is just as big an enemy as greed, especially when they are so short sighted.  Trust is an important element of a solution as we all need to transition to the future.

The wealthy industrialized nations of the west fear that unless the developing nations are willing to forgo their own fossil fuel energy expansion, action on their part is meaningless.  The United Nations seems the most logical place to deal with these problems,  Bi-lateral is most practical for specific issues, but some issues are bigger.  Encouraged to hear that Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and California are tying some of their efforts together.  If these sorts of efforts can expand they can also develop some momentum.  Perhaps we will then expand beyond climate issues to deal with some of the other underlying causes of modern problems.

Photo is of the famous Statue of Liberty during a trip with my office at New York.  also visited Ellis  Island where my wife's Grandmother came from Italy during World War I.