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 to someone, 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"m  Another blockbuster song with Alka Yagnik,  He also sang "Kal Ho na Ho," another favourite.

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 also 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 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 Kaif
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.

Monday, July 17, 2017


We can rant all we want about Donald Trump's misdeeds, but somehow he got into power.  An increasing majority of American voters now realize a horrible mistake was made.  Can we go forward somehow?  The problem is, the status quo suits some people.  In my head there are a number of enablers who bear responsibility.

Number One:  The electoral college.  You might think this is trivial or something that can't be changed.  The origin of the electoral college goes back to the Constitution negotiations.  The southern colonies (especially the elite) that owed their economic wealth to slavery were very concerned they would be out voted and were able to obtain some protections.  Even though they thought Africans were sub human they were able to insist that a slave was worth 3/5 of a human which enabled them to build up their population base.  This was eventually discarded, but the electoral college has been maintained.  It assures that small states can have disproportionate power in presidential l elections.  In cold hard facts Hillary Clinton won almost an extra 3 million votes than Donald Trump and herself never contested the electoral college.  Obviously if you want to win you have to play by the rules and the Trump camp took advantage of the rules.  The rules need to be changed.  Remember George W. Bush lost the popular vote, but was able to win the electoral college.

The Media that is now mostly upset played a significant role. Trump knows show business and attracted a notoriety that greatly boosted his platform.  As always the media was more interested in their own ratings than discussing the issues and the credibility of the candidates.  Climate change should have been a much higher profile issue, but the media mostly ignored it.

Should Trump lose power many will attribute it to the Russians.  The evidence is piling up that not only did the Russians want Trump to win, but were deeply involved.  Hillary Clinton had been critical of the Russian elections and honestly earned the scorn of Vladimir Putin.  Trump has in the past been helped by Russian mobsters.  The Republicans had their own motives, as usual taxes and regulations that were very concerning to the 1%.  They knew that a social agenda would help draw in evangelicals and many low education voters willing to vote against their economic self interest.  It is hard to keep up to date, but read the link for a good perspective on Russian activities.

The education system is uneven with many parts of the country investing more than others.  It seems ironic that Trump did best with the low education voters.  At the same time many of the wealthier better educated voted for their economic self interest.

Big money was not only able to contribute massive amounts of money for their interests, but because of laws passed by conservatives and supported by conservative elements in the Supreme Court, could keep much of it secret.  Elections should not be decided or even influenced by big money.  The big and dark money enabled gerrymandering that ensures Republican congress members fear their home base more than the Democrat opposition.

Ultimately the voters.  Did they really think Donald Trump was going to represent their interests?  Did they think he understood the complexities of the modern world?  Did they feel putting such an immoral man in charge of their nation was ok, because he would somehow do the "right" thing?  Unfortunately, despite losing the popular vote the Trump agenda will get its chance to set the country back and maybe much worse.

Democracy allows one to get what one voted for.  Some hope that after this experience the voters will wake up and vote more reasonably.  Hopefully they are right.

The photo is from a non voter, Sabre, but I like him much more than the enablers.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Democrats are frustrated.  They believe the facts are on their side, but voters persist in giving power to the Republicans, even against their own self interest.  George Lakoff argues that facts and reasoning are not enough, but that there is a way to better understand how to influence voters.  Words count.

Reasoning is the main weapon of the Democrats, but they overlook the critical role of emotions.  The conscious reasoning process is already lagging behind the unconscious reflex process.  The unconscious mind is the base for much of our conscious decisions.  There is discussion of neural connections and how everything fits into established unconscious patterns.

He divides voters into two main camps--conservatives and progressives, but very definitely allowing that most people have a little bit of both tendencies.  There are words and images that tie to one "frame" and over a period of time can steer us in a direction.  If you listen you will notice that the Republicans use a well defined frame for their policies and criticisms.  Although no one is all conservative or all progressive in their thinking, we can be steered to accept views that are not totally compatible.

Conservatives are authoritarian and favour a strict father while progressives are more nurturing parents.  Discipline is admired as is loyalty.  An example is that when Bush pardoned Scooter Libby for taking the rap for disclosing a secret service employee (Valerie Plame) the conservatives admire the loyalty displayed.  Masculinity (including what I call machoism) is admired as part of the same package.

A favourite word of conservatives is "entitlements" and have even been able to get Democrats to use the term.  It infers that safety net items are luxuries that should not be taken for granted, instead of something voters help pay for.

A pet theme of conservatives is that regulations stifle business.  De-regulating is a stated goal of Republicans, but if you examine the issue what they really mean is regulations cut their ability to maximize profits.  A progressive view is that they are really protections.   Lakoff contends that if politicians always counter with the word "protection" voters would eventually realize they have a stake in the issue--their health, their financial security and their safety.  It really is a life and death issue, but Republicans have succeeded in picturing regulations as harmful.

Another beef he has is that conservatives are always wanting to privatize different functions on the premise that private business can do it more efficiently.  The problem from Lakoff's view is that the government has a mission to protect citizens while private businesses have profit as the highest priority.  These two goals are often in conflict.  Some examples of privatizing:  Black Water started by Erik Prince (brother to Betsy De Vos who wants to privatize education) contracts military services, but not accountable.  It has changed ownership and names, but still active.

9-11 was initially termed a crime, but was soon converted to terror and the government adopted war powers putting Democrats on the defense.  Criticism was regarded as unpatriotic and many people suffered.

The Bad Apple defense is often used by conservatives.   A few underlings with little authority take the blame, not the organizers/designers.  One example was the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.  The big decisions were made at the presidential, cabinet minister level, but they were not punished.  Instead the focus was on low level employees.

Still another abused term is "Job Creators" who are pictured as the over taxed citizens who would start up factories, etc if they had the money when in fact no jobs are created without someone spending money.  Often poor people when given a little extra money are more likely to spend it than the rich who just gain a bigger cushion and the ability to better protect their greedy interests.

At the same time government jobs don't count.  Overlooking the fact that not only do their employees spend money, but they facilitate a wide range of market activities whether teachers, police, researchers, or even bureaucrats.

Taxes are always bad and progressives are criticized as spendthrifts who take hard earned money from deserving people and waste it.  Expenditures should be seen as investments--faciltiating and protecting.  Yes there is waste and government which is accountable to the voters must make efforts to control waste.

Metaphors are a critical tool we all use to make sense of things.  Republicans have mastered many of them.  Check

"The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt provides another perspective to my way of thinking.  It demonstrates some of the underlying differences that voters start with.  He is more sympathetic to conservatives, but I think explains their base.

Paraphrasing Bill Clinton, "As we all become more interdependent we are more inclined to look for win-win solutions instead of win-lose."  It reminds me of  Stephen R Covey and the fear Republicans spout about dependency.

Deregulation and privatizing mark a shift from a government with accountability to the public to a government (private business) without accountability to the public--from a government with a moral mission to a government with a mission of maximizing profit.

I would like to leave with a link to George Lakoff's thoughts on how Trump triumphed (over reason). From this link you can learn more Lakoff's thoughts on other political matters.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A man called Ove

We all start judging people as soon as we are conscious of them.   It is hard to overcome our initial pre judgment, but everyone is deeper than their appearance.  Movies often dramatize how we are often wrong about our judgment.  "A Man called Ove" from Sweden is a good example that some would call formulaic, but here it is well done and a reminder we are all fallible

Ove is at first sight hard to like.  He is a grumpy even belligerent nit picker.  Much of it is comic.  At the very beginning you see him deliver flowers to his wife's grave and talk to her giving him a touch of humanity.  He is disgusted with much of the world and wants to join his wife, but his suicide attempts are interrupted

His background is told in flashbacks.  You can see many of his dislikable characteristics, but he is humanized and you might guess a woman is behind it.  The formula works with Sonja a perky and more sophisticated young woman overcomes his awkwardness.  She sees something in him after a chance meeting, perhaps his honesty (even though he lies to make an impression) and earnestness.

One example of his pettiness is his preference for Saab cars and judging other people's character by what cars they buy.  A close friend drove a Volvo and later a BMW and this really tested their friendship.  My father thought Saab was the best car he had ever driven and had been asked to join their rally team.

Back to the present; an Iranian immigrant woman, Parvanah meets him when her Swedish husband's car backs into Ove's mailbox  She annoys him at first, but she is persistently positive and gifts a Persian treat which he ignores until he eats it out of desperation and likes it.  Her two children make him cringe at first, but over the course of the movie he becomes attached.  This also segways to why he doesn't have children.  Later in the movie when Ove and  Parvanah have formed a friendly relationship as he is teaching her to drive, he calls her husband a loser.  She is a very boisterous and pivotal character..

The ending is not unexpected with everybody appreciating Ove a bit more, although they are not privy to all the flashback information.  It feels so good  I felt compelled to recommend the whole movie as you can't appreciate the ending unless you have seen what led up to it.  A grumpy man has been mellowed with young children loving him.

A first time novel from Fredrik Backman inspired the film.  He is a blogger, a magazine writer and now a novelist with a few best sellers under his belt that have been translated into 25 languages.

Hannes Holm directed and wrote the script.  He started directing in 1987 and writing scripts in 1995.  He acted in films starting in 1981.

Rolf  Lassgard appeared in my favourite movie "After the Wedding," a Danish Oscar nominated movie.   He played a benevolent manipulator and won at least one award for it.  He is also known for playing Kurt Wallander.  He played Ove with a lot of bluster, but also subtlety.

Bahar Pars was born in Iran but came to Sweden in 1989 after Iranian-Iraq war.  Her acting career is all in Sweden.  She played the title characters in both "Anna Karenina" and "Hedda Gabler" on stage.  She also directed two short films; the second after this film she also wrote and produced.  It concerns a black woman asked to do a voice over for an advertisement that tries to steer her to a stereotypical role.

Ida Engvoll  plays Ove's wife seen only in flashbacks.    She brought a lot of energy as she had to make up for Ove's shyness.  She plays a title role in"Rebecka Martinsson"  tv series and also in some episodes of tv show I had seen earlier "The Bridge" a joint Danish-Swedish production.

The younger Ove was played by Filip Berg who like many Swedish actors gets most of his experience in television series.  He played a strait-laced man trying to make an impression on a vivacious woman.  He was a good complement to the older Rolf Lassgard.

The background music was provided by Gaute Storass, a Norwegian.  A few songs in Swedish and English helped set the mood.

Goran Hallberg was the cinematographer and had also worked on "The 100 Year Old Man who climbed out the window and disappeared.  Back in 2004 he filmed "ABBA:  Our Last Video Ever"

The editor Fredrik Morhedan has done over 40 films.  He was a creator for a popular Swedish tv series, "Blue Eyes"

A husband and wife team of Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr were nominated for an Oscar for best costume and makeup.  It was actually their second such nomination.  The earlier one was for "The Hundred year old man who climbed out the widow and disappeared."  for which they also received an Oscar nomination.  I had seen that movie and even watched a special feature showing how they applied makeup to create the 100 year old in nine stages of aging--they had to speed up the camera as it was a very long elaborate process.  They had done some other interesting films--the Swedish version of "The girl with the dragon tattoo" trilogy plus one of the English versions plus the Wallander series in Sweden and Britain.  In addition they worked on "Skyfall."  In Sweden film makers had not opted for expensive digital cleanup so that makeup crews had to be available during the shooting.  These two movies have made me appreciate makeup can have an important impact on a movie.

The producing team was headed by Nicklas Wikstrom Nicastra and Annica Bellander.  Nicklas had been a producer for over 10 films while this was only the third for Annica who worked in the marketing department for several films.

If you are looking for a serious movie with a few laughs and leave you feeling good, this is good choice.  If you are sick of formula movies then maybe you wouldn't miss it, but really your enjoyments are rare and you should reconsider.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A World in Disarray

Richard Haas has been on television programs as an expert in diplomacy and is well qualified to do so.  His words are measured and balanced.  Even if you don't totally share his political philosophy what he says and writes is worth considering.

He admires skilled diplomats and names Castlreagh, Metternich and Talleyrand and suggests the Congress of Vienna of 1814-15 was a good example.  The world is much more global now and every nation has global concerns such as climate change, health and trade.

He favours action after analysis.  He faults the Republicans for invading Iraq and even more for disbanding the Iraqi army and top level Baath party members.  After that he concedes there are no really good options, but nonetheless criticizes Obama for not trying to re negotiate to slow down troop withdrawals. There were a lot of factors, political, military and psychological.

He also faulted Obama for drawing a red line with Syria and then not enforcing it.  My perspective is that once Iraq was invaded it opened up a can of worms. and yes it was one of Obama's lapses in careful wording.

He is in favour of multi-lateral institutions, an example of which is Europe.  He feels the more they are linked the less apt they are to resort to war.

The United Nations is good, but sometimes needs to be gotten around.  Vetos assure some nations will continue to participate, but hamstrings the institution.  He speculates that over time nations will see their best interest lies in working together.  He points out that NATO intervened in the former Yugoslavia when it was needed.

Asia Pacific is the area that is most likely to develop to major power.  The rest of the world needs to develop links.  South Korea and Japan are both capable of developing nuclear weapons, but have declined with the understanding United States will defend them.  Although the Trans Pacific Partnership has been curtailed with U.S. declining, Haas felt it should have included China

South Asia which is basically the Indian sub continent is also growing to a major power.

Latin America and Africa need to develop links regionally and globally.  In general the author would like to see NGO and corporations invited to take part in international boards to expand input.

The big international concerns that affect every nation include climate change, health, nuclear weapons and trade.  Understanding each other's needs and a willingness to compromise or better work together is necessary for mankind to survive

"A World in Disarray" is not intended to be a prescription for all problems but as a guideline for how we should try to steer global relations.  A worthy read.

A little more up to date you can check out Richard Haas being interviewed by Bloomberg News on Donald Trump's first foreign trip:


Friday, June 23, 2017


Thomas Jefferson is revered for many things--the writer of the Declaration of Independence, the third president, accepted the Louisiana Purchase. and above all was thought to be a great liberal thinker.  There is one blemish on his record that now is hard to deny.  He likely had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings, a mulatto slave and fathered some children by her.  Almost over-whelming circumstantial facts plus some DNA evidence point to the likelihood of the relationship.  For many this is proof of hypocrisy.

Historical fiction has a dilemma.  Some things are known and cannot be ignored , but lots of things are not known that would help us to understand better.  There is virtually no records of their actual relationship nor even what Sally looked like so really everything is speculation.  A Picasso quote exemplifies the role of fiction, "Art is the lie that shows us the truth."

Stephen O'Connor couldn't resist and wrote "Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings," a fanciful speculation.  Was Jefferson a hypocrite?  History records much that demonstrates Jefferson was enlightened and sympathetic to blacks, but was very much constrained by the culture of the times.  When Jefferson was ambassador to France he took over or had sent some of his slaves and he paid them as they were technically free as France did not allow slavery.  When it came time to return they had the option to stay.  Supposedly Sally bargained for her unborn child to be free when turned 21.  Of course they all had family and friends back in Virginia and in reality were treated relatively well.

With over 600 pages it is intimidating to many of us, but it is easy to read as it is broken down in small segments.  It zips back and forth in time and gives a perspective from different angles.  How did the relationship get started?  what effect did it have?  how does Jefferson's personality align with cultural reality?  A curious world is anxious to fill in the many gaps

The author uses different tools including actual letters and records.  Over a range of chapters O'Connor has Jefferson watching a movie sometimes in the company of James Madison and his wife.  Long dead people express their feelings.  In reality we never can know the internal thinking process of actual historical people.  The reader is free to doubt the motivations, but they are interesting.

From my reading Jefferson is a very conflicted man, but also practical.  Not without stereotypical beliefs he advocated equality and took steps to reduce slavery.  His slaves were well treated by standards of the day even getting some trained in trade skills.  He seemed to be concerned what females wanted.  Above all he really was a Renaissance man who enjoyed philosophical discussions and took an interest in a wide variety of activities.  He also enjoyed inventing things, one of which surprisingly a swivel chair.

He felt that for democracy to survive it required public education and freedom of the press.  He founded the University of Virginia doing the initial architecture and unlike most other universities it was centered on the library rather than a church.

Sex is obviously a driver for the reader.  The author stretches it out.  Thomas Jefferson had never had sex with a virgin  (his wife was a widow and he is said to have visited prostitutes) and Sally is portrayed as a naive 16 year old, thirty years his junior.  The author originally supposed the first sexual encounter was rape, but his research hinted that it might not have been.  In O'Connor's telling, their relationship develops as he tries to teach her to read and have philosophical discussions .  His first attempts result in rejection and fear and his supposed sense of decency creates a wrestling match inside his head.  Eventually they are regular sex partners and she gets pregnant while in France.

Sally is often portrayed as a loving partner, but also one who resented the inequality.  Although given a lot of "freedom", she was not really free.  In reality she probably could pass as a white, in fact her children did.  She realized she was a half sister to Thomas Jefferson's children by his wife and was related to other whites through her mother. but was not given their range of choices

Most of the writing is concerned with the time before Jefferson became president with emphasis on France and Monticello.  In Paris he was very close to Lafayette.  He distrusted both John Adams and Alexander Hamilton and liked James Madison, but the reader is not offered too many political insights.

The book itself is not proof that an intimate relationship existed between the two.  The author accepts that such a relationship was very likely and fills in some of the gaps.  One would like to think their relationship was more than sexual, but there is very little concrete evidence.

For an idea of role of black slaves in the American economy and culture plus two interesting references to Thomas Jefferson:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Polls indicate the level of satisfaction with Trump is declining, but there is still a very hardcore fan base and he is backed by a majority Congress who are working on their own agenda.  The Supreme Court and lesser courts have been tilted conservative.  The Republicans have survived special elections, however with a reduced majority.

Perhaps I am too much an elitist snob, but I cannot understand why his manner of speaking and behaviour doesn't turn off everyone.  Boasting, especially about the trivial as well as important things all by itself should turn off most of us.  Exaggeration is offensive.  His lies are easy to catch and are getting commoner.  Egotism does not work well with Commander in Chief.

The Russian thing.  Maybe he was just the beneficiary of Russian efforts, but the contacts that we know about are very suspicious.  He has associated with Russian mobsters.  I read many months ago and confirmed more recently that the only Republican planks asked for were to do with lifting Russian sanctions.  They show little concern for Russian efforts to undermine the American elections--perhaps they just don't care now that they won with or without their help.  Vicious false stories took away from Clinton's platform.

Trump University illustrates how he looks at the masses.  Apparently he was willing to pay about $25 million dollars to shut the complainers up.  Ordinary people are just opportunities to squeeze more money while providing little value.  He complains about a meanness in the Affordable Care Act revisions, but has demonstrated plenty of his own disinterest in the welfare of his constituents.

This was not meant to be a litany of his many misdeeds. Unless you are illiterate you have had plenty of opportunity to learn about the blatant misdeeds of the Trump administration.  It is not just that Trump is terrible by himself, but he has enabled the minions of the 1% to start dismantling and reversing strategies beneficial to the rest.  He is influenced by despicables and tries to enlist their followers  in his cause.

As a foreigner I am not impressed. He did play the electoral college rules better than Hilary, but the rules originally were set up to protect slavery and do not reflect reality today.  Too many opponents voted third party or stayed home.  Who knows what the investigations will uncover, but there was plenty of evidence before he was elected.  Enough said.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

War as explained by Gwynne Dyer

A few weeks ago I was able to listen to Gwynne at my local library.   His talk inspired me to read one of his earlier books (based on a tv series), "War."

War seems like a natural part of human history.  All our history seems to revolve around wars with the winners telling the stories.  Gwynne goes beyond recorded history to start his account.

Studies done in World II and further back to the American Civil War revealed a strange thing in that most soldiers did not fire their guns to kill.  Up until recently most soldiers were trained how to use weapons and obey orders, but little attention focused on motivating them to actually kill.  That has changed and Dyer gives the example of marine basic training.

War as we know it was not natural for hunter gatherers who often kept away from contested areas and even needed other groups for intermarriage.  When conflicts occurred (sometimes a result of famine or drought) humans learned that aggressiveness paid off resulting in more resources including mating which in turn led to more aggressiveness.

When historical forces resulted in cities, conflicts became more common.  To reinforce the need to kill one early development was the phalanx, originating in Mesopotamia.  It was with soldiers lined up in rows with the back roles pushing forward.  The Romans perfected this strategy and conquered much of the known world.

Tactics didn't change much, although many elements were added.  Horses were effective and had been bred to carry heavier loads.  They could be counteracted, and even elephants as well.  The big development was with guns preceded by bows and arrows.  They killed at a distance.  A little before WW I one response to guns was trenches.  They effectively stalled forward movement.  Airplanes first used in WW I were used for reconnaissance, and bombing.

A strategy developed to cut off supplies meaning that cities and civilians would be attacked.  Previously one's fate was decided on the battlefield, but non combatants became targets.

World War II ushered in the nuclear age.  The Germans has previously used V2 rockets to inflict danger from a distance.  It was possible to kill people without being consciously aware of them as humans.  The nuclear option obviously changed ideas.  The great powers realized if they used them against other great powers it would be the end for all.  Conventional wars were generally involving lesser powers.

Dwight Eisenhower warned about the power and influence of the military industrial complex.  Ammunition and weapons manufacturing have been politically powerful and naturally identify enemies to cause fear.

Dyer discusses guerrilla wars that can only succeed when there is political will behind them.  Two successful examples are Mao Tse Tung and Fidel Castro.  Terrorists do what they do because they cannot mount an army.

The book was revised in 2004, so does not cover drones or ISIL.  Gwynne has been keeping up with developments and thinks the dynamics have not changed critically.

Dyer sees some hope after a case study of baboons in Kenya using a quote from Frans de Waal., "The good news for humans is that it looks like once established peaceful conditions can be maintained.  And if baboons can do it why not us?"  It seems over twenty years ago the leaders of one baboon group, very aggressive and belligerent to females and lesser males claimed exclusivity over a dump that contained poisonous food resulting in their deaths.  Anthropologists studying the result over the years noted that the surviving baboons did not pick up the aggressiveness and belligerency of their predecessors and managed to live in peace.

The author traces the problem to the beginning of civilization.  Prior to that hunter-gatherers lived in small groups that were relatively eqalitarian,  It is only when agriculture allowed humans to live in one place and to greatly increase their numbers that top down decisions became common.  This began power struggles that escalated to nation states contesting one another on a wide variety of issues.

Dyer identifies three trends that will demand global attention.  Climate change if not checked will accelerate and cross all borders.  New nations will rise in power for example China, India, Korea and Brazil questioning the old order.  And third, technology will advance beyond the nuclear threat.

Quoting: "the rising powers must be absorbed into a system that emphasizes co-operation and makes room for them, rather than one one that deals in confrontation and raw military power.  If they are obliged to play the traditional great power game of winners and losers then history will repeat itself and everyone loses.  "  Military concerns take attention from climate change.  Multi lateral systems must survive or we won't.

The United Nations is certainly imperfect, but it is the best tool we have.  The League of Nations was a first step, but founders afraid of being too restricted.  The United Nations was formed with a more realistic format, but still faces a long path to world wide peace.  Progress will be uneven.

Nuclear weapons still attract insecure nations and the more widespread the more likely a problem.  Still some nations have rejected including Canada, Japan, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.  A few others have pulled back such as Argentina, Brazil and more recently Libya.

There is a lot of details with many historical examples to ponder.  Dyer, even today is fairly optimistic.  The critical factor now is mass communications.  People at all levels are more aware of world news.

To be well informed about international dynamics you really should read his weekly columns and if you do not have access to the over 100 newspapers you can catch up at his website,

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Underground Railroad

We have all heard of the underground railroad, but weren't too sure what it really was.  My understanding is that it was really a network of volunteers guiding escaped slaves up north to freedom.  I once visited a black museum in Amherstburg, Ontario where they commemorated escaping over the river that separated Canada from The United States.

The book, which won a 2017 Pulitzer prize really uses the concept of an actual underground railroad as a vehicle to tell a story and make some points.  The railroad is dug out where whites cannot see and uses conductors.  This allows a series of stops and side stories.  Whites are aware of the underground railroad, but for some it is just a figure of speech.

One point in a short side story was about body snatchers in Boston.  Medical students are required to disect dead bodies which were in short supply.  One depicted body snatcher discovered that if he grabbed dead negro bodies there would be no fuss, unlike with some white bodies with loud self-righteous relatives.  A more relevant point was that the students realized that black bodies were the same as white bodies, thus attaining a sort of equality.  Some Africans were conscious that the whties had stolen land from the native Indians, but in this book at least there was almost no interaction.

At the African beginning and also during American transfer of slaves was that slavers were careful not to spread language facility by mixing different language speakers.  Slaves were not to be taught reading.

Whites range from cold hearted cruel owners detached from the reality of what they are doing to the guilt ridden to do-gooders to the fearful.  Slave catchers are a big part of the story as they get paid to retrieve escaped slaves.  For many it is just a job.

Many of the slaves are accepting of their fate and fearful of change.  One young black boy orphaned and fearful becomes a helper to a slave catcher.  Mulattoes also appeared in the story and although they were usually treated like slaves, they did enjoy some privileges that resulted in ambiguous relationships with other slaves.

There was real fear concerning what the slaves could do if they got free.  In fact education was a concern as a weapon against whites.  Abolitionists could be punished if circumstances allowed as they could precipitate a rebellion.

To many white Americans this is all history and they do not think of it much and certainly don't feel it is much of an excuse for poor behaviour today.   The Holocaust also fades in memory and we also need to remind ourselves the effects do indeed carry on, despite our loss of consciousness.

Earlier read "Underground Railway" by Ben H. Winters  which was really an extension of earlier conditions with the adjustment that the Civil War never happened.  America evolved without the violent disruption.  The author was really suggesting that slavery could have survived if Lincoln failed to make it to the White House after his election.  Read more:

The key link in both books was that de-humanizing of people was an outcome of ignorance and greed.  Once de-humanizing had progressed enough, cruelty was a tool to benefit other humans (investors).  As both books make plain as someone once said, for evil to prevail it only required many to stand by and watch.

Sunday, April 30, 2017


Donald Trump likes to project himself as unpredictable supposedly making him a better negotiator.  There might be some logic to that, but really it is more complicated.

In the world of sports we root for our team, but would soon lose interest if the outcome was totally predictable.  As a youngster I enjoyed watching my home town lacrosse Oshawa Green Gaels win pretty well every game I saw by a large margin.  I still appreciated the skills involved, but it became increasingly boring to watch.  Taping live events and watching later has the danger of spoilers.  Concern over the outcome is part of the excitement.

Movies and television shows are determined before we decide to let them entertain us.  We all have preferences, but over time these preferences can be modified.  Sometimes the ending can be fulfilling, other times you feel cheated and other times mystified.  Surprises can do all those things.  Do you like happy endings?  Do we predict a mood from how it is resolved.   IMDB values its readers enough to insist upon spoiler alerts.  Awhile back I did a post of movies from both a producer and consumer perspective.

The stock market doesn't like surprises and will often react very quickly on a rumour, but sometimes can be rereassured.  Smart investors are those who buy low and sell high.  A panic can put prices down very quickly.  Euphoria can put prices up unrealistically high.

Our lives are consumed mostly by habits and routine.  You get up, go to work or school for so many hours eventually getting off to enjoy some familiar activities.   Family and friends for the most part are supportive and reliable.  Disrupt that routine and we can become anxious or even depressed.  Long term we anticipate many of life's milestones with many being looked forward to and a few maybe dreaded.

It is true that being unpredictable can throw off your opponents.   Sometimes pleasant unexpected events can boost our spirits and make us more agreeable.  You do better if you can accurately predict the reaction of those you interact with.  Some people avoid confrontation and although one might think they have been defeated, the collateral damage can be unpredictable.  Good will has to be earned.

Who do you trust?  Someone who surprises you, not always in a positive way.  Someone who offers very few surprises?  Would you say trust is a big part of negotiating?  When the unpredicted happens who do you trust?

The photo comes from a performance by Circus Orange.  I predict they will put on a good show, but they manage to find a way to do something unpredictable every time I am lucky enough to see them.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Gwynne Dyer

Last nite was a special unexpected treat for me.  Gwynne Dyer is my favourite newspaper columnist and I don't say that as an isolated newspaper reader.  I enjoy the columnists for the New York Times and Washington Post amongst others, but Gwynne has impressed me the most.  Somehow he appeared at my local library, Hamilton Public Library.  He did not disappoint.

Trying to figure out what makes him different, the library CEO explained his interest came from noticing the mainstream news did not cover the developing world in any depth, except Gwynne Dyer did.  Although he has a very strong military background (has taught at military colleges and traveled more than most) he has an awareness of political dynamics that is well beyond most.  That also means he understands human dynamics.  The first of the so-called political pundits who recognized the seriousness of climate change.  As a fellow Canadian he realized that although the Western world was dominant it wasn't the only factor in the global affairs.

The topic was Donald Trump, a subject that seems to be on everyone's mind.  Gwynne admitted several times he didn't like him and originally, back in November thought Americans could not be that dumb.  Based in London he also thought the Brits would not be dumb enough to exit the EU.   After interviewing countless people he has evolved his thinking to the point he thinks Donald Trump might be the wake up call needed.

One difference he explained was that immigration was a  bigger issue in Britain as they were not as used to immigrants unlike United States (and Canada) where most of us are at best a few generations from immigrants ourselves.  Ironically where immigrants are well established in the big cities there was not a strong backlash against them, but in other areas they were one of the key factors.

In America a more serious problem was jobs.  He said official stats are misleading, the true unemployment is much higher in the United States.  The problem is not only one of finance, but also of humiliation.  It is easy to blame outsourcing and immigrants, but Gwynne maintains by far the bigger factor is automation and it will continue to get worse.  Unless something is done he sees anger deciding elections.  The anger could result in someone worse than Donald Trump who he sees like a canary in the coal mine.  One bit of humour (of many instances) was that in twenty years something like 50% of jobs will fall to automation.  He suggested that pole dancing would not.

One possible solution to the dilemma is a universal basic income.  The world is not ready just yet.  He related an experience in Switzerland where the attempt through a referendum failed, was explained as a necessary first step.  He thinks that since the election more people are talking about universal basic income.

His speech was relatively short, but the question period was very interesting.  He handled it brilliantly, giving people a chance to speak their mind.  Korea, Syria were covered with realistic answers.  One of the organizers had to help close the questions or I suspect he would have carried on.

One guest recalled  a talk given at Sir Wilfred Laurier University around 1996 and asked if he had changed his mind.  First he joked that he thought he had had everyone at that talk killed.  He admitted that he might have changed a bit, but that most of his core beliefs are the same

Another guest asked about how inequality is increasing and he foresees that mankind will revert to what most of its history with dictators ruling over the poor masses.  Gwyne reverted back to hunter-gatherer days when there was much more equality, but then when mankind got civilized  more decisions were made top down, because there was relatively poor communication.  The great salvation today is that  there is mass communication.

On another question he commented that the right contained some smart rich people (the ones who earned their money, not those who inherited it) who could easily see that for them to be rich they need customers and they need to avoid a revolution.   One of the big concerns about Universal basic income is if those receiving it will be motivated to do the still necessary work.  He mentioned that  Hamilton is one of three Ontario cities  that will experiment among poor and will help determine a future course.

Gwynne felt that one of the best hopes for the future was international alliances.  One factor with the formation of the EU was to avoid future wars amongst the European powers and it worked with many other benefits.  Recent developments have restored some of his faith after the Brexit  and Trump disasters.  The United Nations has also been successful in avoiding wars between the big powers.

He also suggested we should encourage Michelle Obama to run for president in 2020.

I met some good friends, Rob and  Sue and learned we have something in common.  Gwynne's column is the first thing they look for in the local paper.

If you are not accessible to one of the 100 or so newspapers around the world that carry his twice weekly columns you can check him out at his webiste:

Inspired by this meeting I read one of his books and for some further insight you can read my review,

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Yuval Noah Harari has written two books that analyze where humankind has come from (:// and where we might go.  Thank goodness it is told with some humour because it is really very deep.  It delves into what makes us who we are.  You will be challenged to study yourself.  There are so many interesting insights in this book, but I can only highlight a few.

Analyses present realities, but always taking into account evolution that brought us here.  For example he points out that revolutions tend to be taken over by those previously close to power such as in Romania and even more recently in Egypt.  Coming through evolution is that humans have the advantage of organizing over all other life and those already organized have the advantage over the rest of humans.  Terrorists are too weak to use conventional methods, but the biggest danger is to over-react which is normally a part of the political process.

Looking to the future he sees that humankind is now able to view death as a technical problem, rather than a religious concern.  As we conquer one disease after another and go deeper into the root causes of aging we develop newer strategies.

Increasingly we view ourselves as the centre of the universe and the author notes that wildlife has been halved while domestic animals have multiplied and are more cruelly treated.  People are said to have souls, but animals do not.  Evolution takes away the concept of souls for humans.  New Zealand became the first nation (May 2015) to declare animals as sentient beings.

Cognitive revolution came when humans took advantage of their superior intelligence and began to organize on a bigger scale.  The process started about 70,000 years ago

Agricultural Revolution began about 12,000 years ago and allowed for concentrations of people and specialization.   Writing, invented by Sumerians 5,000 years ago allowed elites to control larger numbers of people and it might be said started data processing.

The Science Revolution started around 1500 and was initiated by the awareness of our ignorance.  Today we realize there is so much we don't know, but we are progressing at ever accelerating rates.

Trust is another key to success.  The best example is the credit system which has enabled economic expansion that has benefited everyone.

DNA analysis is now available and becoming more affordable.  At this stage is often used to determine disease probabilities.  Manipulating genes is well established and likely to be fine-tuned.

The big question for me is free will.  The author cites several examples that demonstrate there is something behind every acton.  Where do desires come from?  My advice is that to live the best life you must use whatever resources are available and take responsibility for every decision.  Yuval points out that Buddhist thinking is that cravings always lead to suffering.

As we are all algorithms and we can easily be replaced.

Yuval point out that Google and Facebook know more about us that many people with who we socialize.  Dataism is a new religion that will take over the world.  Anything that can be measured (they believe that is everything) can be used to make decisions.  It is likely that a very small elite would emerge in power while the rest of us for practical purposes would be thought of as useless.

The author admits nobody knows what the future will bring, but after laying out some possibilities he leaves us with three questions that will decide the future of humankind.

1.  Are organisms really just algorithms and is life really just data processing?
2.  What is more valuable--intelligence or consciousness?
3.  What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious, but highly intelligent
algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?

The two of his books I have read have been amongst the most profound ever.  To learn more about Yuval Noah Harari, visit

Friday, April 7, 2017

"The Content Trap" adapts to the new reality

Getting ahead in the world seems like wading through a never ending swirl of new trends.  Research and analysis tries to keep up with developments.  As Bharat Anand started this book he predicted life would change during the process.  He was surprised by a project he became involved with forced him to adopt some of the book's thinking

In a world with relentless pressures and seemingly never ending technical innovations the author identifies two basic problems:  1).  getting noticed and 2). getting paid.  If you aren't different in business you will die.  The value of this book is a a deeper understanding of future business basics.

Traditionally advertisers have paid for the dissemination of information.  Now there is free information, including ads on the inter-net  Many newspapers are out of business because many people find it more cost effective to advertise online.

Schibsted, a publishing firm in Norway illustrates it is possible to take a print newspaper and convert to a very prosperous online entity.  They were able to persuade Germans to advertise their cars on the Norwegian website.  In South Africa, the Occar Pretorious shooting happened between press deadlines forcing the owners of one firm with an opportunity for a scoop to first present story online.  This forced them to change their focus.

Connectivity is the key factor.  User connectivity, product connectivity and function connectivity.  Schibsted asks 'how can we help our readers to help each other."  The strength of a network is its connectivity.

It is fixed costs that make upscaling so profitable.  Walmart always credited for tough bargaining with suppliers, but they are variable costs.  Other moves they made include rural locations, clustering, reduce advertising.  These steps reduced fixed costs.

Most consumers resent the bundling of cable channels.  The author contends there are benefit for both providers and consumers.  The practice keeps the costs down as individual channels would have to have a higher price.  The consumer gets lower costs for their choices while the provider reduces fixed costs.

One fact hit me--You Tube offers their viewers a chance to skip watching an ad, but it is only after 3 seconds which is required in order to charge an advertiser.

Complementary items increase each others value and are an example of function connectivity.  At one time a CD was an ad for a concert, but now the price of obtaining music is cheap while concert tickets are more expensive.  The Michelin system for evaluating restaurants was originally intended to encourage people to drive more.

Some advice from an established advertising analyst, David Ogilvy:  "Information about the product is more important than persuading the consumer with adjectives."

Competition advantage ultimately comes from scarcity and differentiation.  Managing the two is the key to digital success.  Many examples are given how some companies stumbled or sometimes planned for better connections to demonstrate their value.

While in the midst of this book Bharat was asked to help design online courses for the Harvard Business School (where he was a professor).  Stumbling around he realized that students learn best when they engage with others.  Borrowing from concepts learned writing the course encouraged students to interact.  We all connect with others in ways not previously thought possible.

To get some more insights from Bharat visit:

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

La Derniere Fugue

Movies try to replicate life, however for many of us they are escapes from life.   "La Derniere Fugue," a Quebec movie released in 2010 wasn't pre planned for me, but just a time filler to keep up my pace of watching movies.  Getting into it woke me up.  This really was not only life and death, but somewhat about the meaning of life.

It begins with a Christmas family around the dinner table with parents sitting down and kids running around.  The head of the family, the grandfather has Parkinson's, with trouble speaking and feels shunted aside.  He is not supposed to eat dessert or a lot of special Christmas items.  He loses his temper, falls down and causes a lot of embarrassment.  He mocks one of his daughters who is going through menopause causing her to leave the table.  Another couple are bickering.  A teenage grandson talks with his father and says he would like to help grandpa to die.  At first it seems poorly thought out and disrespectful.  Over the course of the movie he conspire with his father who carries resentment and guilt.

A series of flashbacks with a different set of actors helps to put things in context.  One episode is remembered bitterly by the son whose father pushed him aside into the water when he was about to catch a large fish.  The father took credit for it.  Later we learned the father (the grandfather) confessed to his wife and expressed regret, but never brought it up to his son.  Many of us parents have done things we regret to our children and now rationalize that we are more mature now.

In many of the flashbacks we see the younger grandfather playing the piano and spouting off a wide range of scientific facts to his children.  Back to the current time the one son tells that his father was too smart for what he had to do to make a living and had to keep quiet.

The grownup children talk to their mother with the idea they should put their father in a home.  They appreciate their mother is exhausted.  The one son and his son talk to the grandmother and tell her they want to make it easier for the grandfather to die.  They have in mind letting him eat what he really enjoys.  Early in the movie they give him some forbidden potato chips and emergency ambulance is called in only to realize he was only choking.  She defends her husband and says, (paraphrasing) he doesn't really want to die because even though they are good Catholics they fear that after death there is nothing.

After a humiliating physiotherapy session the Grandfather says he wants to die.  His wife and son and grandson set out to make his last days as enjoyable as possible.  He explains about favoured foods and above all wants to go fishing back at the lake he remembers.  At what would be one of his last meals the family is recalled and on this occasion one of his son-in-laws explodes and says he is leaving his wife.  Then they are all told the grandfather knows he is going to die soon and welcomes it.  You might guess the gist of how it ends, but you will miss a lot of details.

Another line got my attention.  Youngsters are always trying to figure how their elders ever got together and what it was like.  The grandson asks if they ever French-kissed.  The Grandmother laughs and says "of course.  What a silly question?"

Animals appear in a lot of movies and are specially trained for their role.  Fish played a critical role in this move and I marvel at the effort that must have occurred to help move the plot.

Lea Pool directed and co-wrote the script.  She was born in Switzerland and many of her films seem to have Swiss backing or characterization.  Many of her films have won international awards, such as "Emporte-Moi," "Le demoiselle savage," "La Passion d'Agustine" and "Lost and Delerious," none of which I have yet seen.  One I saw was in English, "The Blue Butterfly" which also won awards.   I have already reserved a few of her films.

Gil Courtemanche, co-wrote  from his novel, had been a journalist and television host.  He investigated the Rwanda genocide and wrote ""Un dimanche a la piscine a Kigali" which won the French version of Canada Reads and was also turned into a movie.  Died in 2011 after this movie.

The title refers to some piano music that the protagonist was playing.  I recognized two tunes form Bach that I enjoy.

The Grandfather was played by Jacques Godin and he made you feel uncomfortable and embarrassed for his family.  I had seen him in a forgotten move released in 1964, "The Luck of Ginger Coffey."

The grownup son was played by Yves Jacques who I had been seen in one French movie with Audrey Tautou, "Therese" and two Quebec movies, "The Barbarian Invasion" and "Jesus of Montreal" (1989)   Some of you might have seen him in "The Aviator" or "Grace of Monaco," but I missed both of them.

The Grandmother was played by Andree Lachapelle who was also in "Jesus of Montreal."  Also appeared in "Leolo" and "La Passion d'Augustine."

The grandson who conspired to give his grandfather an enjoyable death was played by Aliocha Schneider in only his second movie.  After this he has become busy with tv series and a few more movies.  Aliocha had a deft touch displaying a deep concern for his grandfather, but also able to have fun.

Not everyone will enjoy this movie, but there are light moments as well as life and death decisions.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


That book title sounds innocent, perhaps even helpful.  At my age I thought it might give a few hints on how to get more out of life.  Well it does, sort of,  but it is really philosophical and pointed at dealing with the human avoidance of our inevitable death.  Michael Kinsley will make you laugh a bit while you ponder the bigger questions of life.  Just to be clear most readers would consider his humour on the black side, but like good humour it hits a point.

Michael, himself  learned  at a relatively young age (23 years prior to this book) he had Parkinson's which he thinks of as an early signal for his own mortality forcing him to think ahead.  He was fairly successful  as a journalist and editor for such media platforms as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Slate, Harper's and The Economist.  We all tend to not think of our inevitable death, but as we age it becomes harder to ignore and some of us are hit with a fatal disease that sharpens your focus.

When we wake up to the end, we have three choices:  denial, acceptance and confrontation.  Michael feels acceptance is no strategy.  He mostly opts for denial with the concept that his disease will have minimal impact on his life.  He admires those who choose to confront.  He chooses to take a humorous perspective.

One bumper sticker, "he who dies with the most toys wins" is contrasted with "you can't take it with you."  In the end possessions are cast aside as not being the ultimate goal.

Having increasingly noticed that longevity is often accompanied with dementia, many people would  amend their future hopes.  Cognition becomes identified as what we want to hold onto as long as possible and when it is diminished so is our life value.  Outside the book, I am reminded of a Pacific Island where they view Alzherimer-like diseases differently.  The victims are often happy and in all cases relatively oblivious of reality.  Maybe they are better off and although we fear becoming that way, the real problem is the extra concern and labour of the care givers.  No one wants to be a burden, but maybe it is an easier exit if one is unaware of it.

As I am a very small fund raiser for Parkinson's I was interested in some given information.  Side effects are often overlooked, but include for some patients, depression, bad skin, insomnia and a gambling compulsion.  I had heard of deep brain stimulation that gives relief to some, but didn't realize it was performed while the patient is conscious.  The author advocates stem cell research.  He is well aware that his body and mental faculties are declining.  Told by one doctor that he would lose his "edge," Michael was very conscious that his success had hinged on his "edge."

Another concern is for our reputation.  Although his Parkinson's disease has been proceeding slowly Michael has noticed that people assume he is not quite as bright as he once was or as capable and tests confirm this notion.  Reputation, or better still fame seems a worthy goal.  He runs through a lists of dominant people in different fields and concludes that most are not remembered.  Jane Austen was not famous at her death, but about 75 years afterwards with the help of relatives her fame began to rise.  Earlier in the book he relates an account with Robert McNamara in his 80's admittedly making amends for his role in the Vietnam disaster, something the author points not everyone gets to do.

Another goal associated with impending death is to leave a legacy  As a boomer he has a lot of criticism for his own group, deferring to what he thinks was a more deserving group--the ones who fought WW II.  There is a lot about how greedy each generation can be, but hard to deny the previous generation did something noble.  He ends on a political note, about how he thinks we boomers should leave a legacy.  He thinks we have spent our government into unimaginable debt and that the estate taxes should be revived to reach more people, not just the filthy rich.

Fortunately for us who are only vaguely aware of what happens at the end of old age, Michael has retained some of his edge and we are the better for it.

Mostly acknowledgements are skipped, even for an enjoyable read, but this is truly unique and humorous.  He thanks a long list of his doctors for allowing him to live long enough to write the book,

To read about another angle on death, the disposal of dead bodies,

Friday, March 10, 2017


Hillbillies are a much maligned group.  I remember that calling someone a hillbilly was an insult.  Like other groups they are not monolithic, but do share some common characteristics.  J.D. Vance has in some ways escaped the trap, but in a type of memoir he captures a portrait of hillbillies.

As a youngster his family moved from Kentucky to Ohio and he spent part of his life going back and forth partly due to the migration of hillbillies north, but more tied to his family changes.  His mother offered a number of husbands and boyfriends and although J.D. got along with most of them, he knew not to get too attached.  His grandmother and his sister were his salvation.

Fighting was very common.  The author's Grandmother advised him on fighting and took pride not only for winning, but for standing up.  His mother got into fighting with her husbands and boyfriends and eventually became addicted to drugs.  J.D. went from one family setting to another.

His mother once asked for his urine so she could pass a drug test.  He self righteously rejected her and afterward confessed he thought there might be a trace of marijuana in his urine.  Drugs and alcohol were a part of the culture.  Religion is intense for some, but lackadaisical for others.   The author had experience with a group that was more upset about social concerns than doing anything neighborly or unselfish.  A lack of impulse control was common and reinforcing.

Joined the Marines and after boot camp had a new perspective on life.  One change was his attitude towards food which he then saw as important for a better life.  With a little more focus he went to Ohio State and then to Yale Law School.  At Yale he became more conscious of class distinctions.  Met his wife Usha who helped give him a wider perspective.  Being a university student led to being introspective.   One his professors was Amy Chua who advised and encourged him.  Read more about her writing at

J.D. talked of people on welfare mocking those who worked and barely scraped by.  This attitude the author feels is a major factor why Appalachia switched to Republicans.   As industry moved out many were reluctant to move and found themselves with houses not worth what was owed on them.  For those not on welfare saw those that were as dragging them down.  I read elsewhere the J.D. considers himself a Republican, but did not vote for Donald Trump.

The book is very gritty and he recounts that his mother felt hurt by parts of it and a sister disputed his sequence of events.  Consider it a close up look at a group that has a lot of influence, but has been basically misunderstood.

Nancy Isenberg in "White Trash" provided some insight to the Appalachian whites,

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Two Round Elections: Food for Thought

We are often hearing about two round elections, in Europe and elsewhere.  It would seem they must be more expensive and certainly more time consuming.  There must be some advantage to the notion.  Perhaps the idea is worth looking into.

A good example of the merits might be the recent American election.  No candidate received 50% of the vote.  Many voters wanted to register their preference for third party candidates, some actually in protest.  It is hard to believe that many Green party voters really wanted Donald Trump to win, but at the same time it seems likely that few Libertarian voters would have preferred Hillary Clinton to win.  Each side cannot accept the other.

In other systems such as Canada and the United Kingdom the most powerful official is decided by locally elected members, often to the party that won only a plurality of voters.  At least in the US. it is possible for one party to locally elect members of Congress while the president is of a different party which in itself is check on power abuse.

Many political parties adopt a system that assures only a candidate that obtains 50% +1 is declared the leader of that party.  After the first round there is almost always some soul searching and attempts to build a coalition among like minded voters.  In the end everyone can acknowledge that the winner is at least acceptable to the true majority and the minorities for the most part accept the decision.

Not sure what happens when in a national election there are 4 or more candidates and they all receive similar results.  From the party elections we know it is not always one from the top 2 of the first round that prevails, but if there are more than 2 rounds the expense and time consumption go up.

When the stark reality of only two candidates left with neither being totally satisfactory it becomes evident people are forced to give the matter more thought.

I still believe local issues need representation, but that when power is concentrated at the national level it is preferable to give voters a chance to focus on different concerns.

One pitfall is that some people vote strategically--by that I mean will vote for a third party that will have the impact of denying another party a final round or they forego the third party and vote for their second choice.  It might even out and in any case you do get choose between the two survivors.

An educated voter is crucial to a democracy.  The system needs to support them as much as practical. Perhaps we in North America can take a closer look at how other jurisdictions handle elections.  Elections are a vital part of democracy.