Sunday, December 17, 2017

We Were Eight Year's in Power

Donald Trump is adamant--the Obama years were a "disaster."  Objectively that seems ridiculous, but for some people it masks a streak of racism in America.

Ta-Nehisi Coates articulates the view that racism is firmly established in America.  His title actually comes from an earlier time after the Civil War at the time of Reconstruction when in South Carolina, blacks for an 8 year term had real power and were able to accomplish some constructive things.  Their feats were dismissed, twisted and mocked.  Despite a lot of problems and maybe some justified criticisms Obama did accomplish a number of things in his eight years that made Americans better off, but the legacy is being deliberately destroyed.

The book contains essays that were first published in The Atlantic over an eight year period, but each is preceded by some personal context.  Coates is very introspective continuously trying to determine his own motives.  As with most of us his thought evolves.  The articles by themselves advance his career.

To those who believe the evils of slavery are history with no consequences you should read my post on "The Half has never been told.  Coates brings up a wide range or statistics that prove his point, but he makes an honest effort to be balanced.

Coates points out that Americans love to tell the world about how important freedom is and how they are so great because of democracy, but in fact their freedom and economic growth was largely based on land stolen from natives and slave labour.  The Greeks also owed part of their democracy to slavery that allowed the elite to ponder the decisions of the day.  While Coates and other blacks contend the bigger problem is racism they have to contend with the notion that class is a more critical problem.

Reparations are discussed, even trying to figure out an amount, but concedes nearly impossible to impose.  The established whites overlook how they accumulated their power.  Income is important, but accumulating wealth gives more choices.  One way of accumulating wealth has been through housing.  Blacks were deliberately obstructed in trying to build wealth in this manner.  Today affirmative action is attacked as if everyone really has the same opportunity.

Another way to advance oneself is through families.  The slaveholder mentality carried on even after the Civil War when whites found excuses to incarcerate blacks and turn them into cheap labour.  In more modern times blacks still easily run afoul of the law and are disproportionately incarcerated.  This continues to force families to survive often with the breadwinner in jail.  Coates points out how this aggravates an already difficult situation.

He feels Obama was in a very unique position to be the first black president.  He lived a life with loving white grandparents and was given opportunities to advance his education.  Obama felt it was not politic to criticize whites for past injustices, but to appeal to their better nature.  Do not be a threat.  Earlier in the book he talked about Bill Cosby who became a very popular tv star and perhaps encouraged more whites to accept blacks.  Of course Cosby's name is derided now, but by not being threatening he became very successful.  Later he became very critical of fellow blacks who he felt were not doing the right things.

Obama and Seth Myers joked at the expense of Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner.   Some observers felt the humiliation is what motivated Trump to run for president and not merely replace Obama, but to destroy his legacy.  Too many whites found it difficult to accept that a black man could make a significant contribution to America.  Now the whole world suffers.

Coates ends his book with:  "I see the fight against sexism, racism, poverty and even war finding their union not in synomity, but in their ultimate goal--a world more humane."

To learn more about the author, Ta-Nihisi Coates check his website

Monday, December 4, 2017

A world of three zeros

We in the rich part of the world don't usually seek advice from poorer parts of the world, but Mohammad Yunnus, the Nobel Peace prize winner from Bangladesh has good credentials.   To some he might seem naive, but in fact he has operated under very difficult circumstances and accomplished what some feel are miracles.

Yunnus was educated inn Bangladesh and the United states becoming  teacher and at one point saw a need of poor women in rural Bangladesh.  Using his resources he started loaning small amounts of money with no collateral.  He established the Grameen Bank in 1983 and it has been replicated in over 100 countries  Surprisingly the rate of re-payment was over 97%.  It turned around local economies and over time got global attention.

Capitalism is worshipped by many people, but if we are honest it has problems.  Under its frame it is inevitable that despite all efforts to restrain it, it leads to income inequality.  It is not hard to see why when you consider that rich people tend to set the rules, a process you can witness with the United States Congress.  It is true that in general most people are better off than people of a century ago, but the gains have been very uneven and many would argue not as closely linked to merit as would be ideal.  Yunnus doesn't think the problem is so much distribution as underlying premises.

One of the academic foundations of capitalism is "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith, written in 1776.  It rationalizes capitalism declaring it is only by catering to the will of what people want that gives us the beauty of free market business.  Not noted as much is another book by the same Adam Smith, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments."  Yunnus quotes Smith, "How selfish soever man may be supposed there are evidence some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortunes of others and render them happiness necessary to him though he drivers nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it."  Self interest is too often interpreted to mean profit or selfishness, but could be expanded to include our long term collective happiness.

The three zeros that form the author's goal are zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.  Might seem the goals are in conflict, the author maintains they reinforce one another.

Social business is defined as meeting a need, developing sustainability, but not great profits.  Sustainability is necessary and Yunnus discusses some examples of how has worked.  One project was Haiti Forest to remedy the great need for forestation.  Money was brought in by the Clinton foundation and Branson Virgin Unite, but is generating benefits through jobs and an improved environment.  They plant one million trees per year.

Another project was in Colombia and involved McCain noted for potatoes in Canada.  One concern was the number of potatoes that were misshapen and ended up being wasted.  Researchers looked for ways to turn these ugly vegetables into something useful  One solution was to use them for soup.

Good governance is essential.  One function Yunnus feels is credible elections.  Criteria should be set up and might be enforced by the United Nations.  Some nations have already sought the services of groups such as the one started by Jimmy Carter that give their election greater acceptance.

Corruption is identified as a critical obstacle.  Yunnus posits that transparency engineered with technology is one tool and another is education.  I think both ideas have merit, but corruption is very basic to humans.  A movie has dealt with the inevitably of corruption and also one hero's solution.  You might want to explore the notion:

Yunnus feels the future will be shaped by today's youth, many of whom reject both capitalism and socialism.  They are better educated, diverse and globally connected.  The poor will have to be involved.  Almost always they are at the end of technological developments

The purpose of life on this planet is not merely to survive, but live in it with grace, beauty and happiness.  It is up to us to make it happen.  We ca create a new civilization based not on greed, button the full range of human values.  Let's begin to-day."

John Maynard Keynes once said that the only purpose (of economics) is so that people could live "wisely, agreeably and well." He didn't restrict that to the rich, but felt income inequality was part of the problem. One of his most famous quotes is " the long run we are all dead."  Read more about Keyes at:

To me an economic system has to be based on human nature and human aspirations.

Ayn Rand is often thought of as the high priestess of selfishness, but she did make one point I agree with which is that we should think long term more than short term of our interests.  Unfortunately I don't believe she thought about it in enough depth.

I do recommend the book. There are lots of ideas and experiences to ponder.   If such ideas are not examined and discussed there is little hope for humankind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


The real issue is political.  Climate change is a concern that affects everyone, but still there is resistance.  As Al Gore points out "In order to address the environmental crisis, we're going to have to spend some time fixing the democracy crisis."  The subtitle "Truth to Power" is generally interpreted to speak truth to power and Gore bring up another aspect from Gandhi that the word "Satyagraha," a strong force in his efforts means "truth force."  Truth has a force all its own.

During the Zika scare a suggestion of "don't get pregnant " was made in parts of the United States.  This crisis with other tropical diseases spreading was a direct result of global warming.

"An Inconvenient Truth" was criticized for projections of water hitting the World Trade Centre Memorial, however less than a decade later it actually happened.  Gore pointed out that drought in Syria, its worst in over 900 years forced the closure of many farms and many immigrants to the cities where many were unemployed.  One of many factors leading to a civil war.

When I first researched this movie I checked as usual with IMDB and they had a rating of 5.8 which is normally where I avoid actually watching a movie.  I had seen "An Inconvenient Truth and felt not only did it tell a valuable story but did so in a professional manner.  How could the rating be so low? One commenter noted that there were an unusual amount of 1 star ratings and easily I could see a lot of negative comments.  This is only one example of organized efforts to deny climate change.

A common theme is the messenger is hypocrital and greedy.  I would say Al Gore looks like a wealthy man and is able to travel wherever he likes.  Nobody listens much to scientists or poor people  He has found a mission and a purpose.  This movie certainly has an egotistical slant, but Al Gore rightly sees himself in a critical role in a crucial issue.  The Supreme Court decided he would not be president--in reality a lot of pathetic political opposition played a big role (voter suppression, electoral college, big money disinformation).   Just before the pivotal election Gore had succeeded in getting funding for a satellite that would observe the earth with regard to climate change, but after the Republicans took over the funding was ended.

At the Paris Climate Conference he helped bring together an American industrialist, with the Environmental Minister for India.  India was planning to build a large number of coal based generating plants and when they thought of switching some to solar powered were told the interest rates would be beyond their means.  Al Gore helped remedy that obstacle.

When scanning the world it is easy to become aware of an increase in the severity of storm, droughts and forest fires.  Insurance companies are well aware of the risks and are making adjustments.

Nature speaks loudly and scientists are better able to interpret.  Still vested interests have a powerful platform that slants opinions.  Although the average person is becoming more sympathetic to the need to do something, politicians listen more to their rich and powerful donators.  The problem might be summarized that renewable energy is a disruptive innovation that threatens established fossil fuel businesses; read more

The movie was directed by the husband/wife team of Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk both of whom also worked with "The Island President" that I had seen recently about the environment.  Music written by Jeff Beal who also wrote the theme for "House of Cards."

Donald Trump will be a blot on American history for many reasons, but his opportunist attitude on climate change will be a primary reason.  Not all Americans voted for him and many others sat out, but it still reflects very poorly on the American electorate.  Although there is increasing awareness of climate change there is a lot of highly financed opposition.  The more people see this film the sooner that opposition will be overcome hopefully soon enough.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The 100 Year life--how to make the most of it

Lynda Gratton got my attention with "the Shift" that contained a lot of provocative ideas, but as important had a unique presentation.  Trying to predict the future is a bit unfair, but she developed a format that was helpful--she used fictional scenarios, but adjusted variables ranging from best to worst likelihood.  Here is a link for my review of her well worth reading book that is consistent with her latest endeavour.  I felt "The Shift" was the best book read in that year.

With "the 100 Year Life" she with co- author Andrew Scott are venturing onto new territory.  Longer life.  It is futuristic because it is still rare for humans to survive 100 years, but you may start to notice it is becoming more common  A great opportunity, but not without problems.

As in "the Shift" Lynda uses fictional characters to illustrate her points.  The first character born about the same time as me, like me has stumbled through life and with a little luck is set for a normal retirement.  The second character is younger and with a longer life expectancy and financial stresses will have to make adjustments.  Her third character, a younger girl knows she has a longer life expectancy and has to prepare for it well in advance.

The first concern for individuals is how to finance a retirement.  At one time few made it to retirement.  With life expectancy creeping up to 100 we have to consider how we can afford to live that long.  The two main ideas are to work longer or save more

At the same time the job situation is changing.  Technology threatens us in many ways.  The authors see some hope.

The authors see a need for people to change their job skills over the years.  Education can help, but needs to be flexible.  A long life with jobs can place stress on relationships and the authors believe everyone will need to spend time cultivating networks and to maintain intimate relationships.  It is important to realize that your reputation is your brand and that will be critical to make transitions.

With a long life and uncertain job prospects it is wise to keep consumption levels low as they tend to be maintained.  At times individuals will have to transition and will have to curb their spending.  Deferring gratification will be critical to learn new skills.

The core belief is that society will no longer function on the three stage life cycle of education than work then retirement.  The book is full of ideas of how to rethink the opportunities as well as the problems.

It is expected that there all be resistance from corporations and government.  The changes are most likely to come from people.  What is needed is not just pension reform, but more flexibility.  We stand to not only allow more people a more enjoyable satisfying life but also to break down age barriers and segregation.  Part time education will increase to meet the demands of an ever changing economy.  The authors feel workers will have to not only develop specialized skills, but would also benefit for a liberal education that would encourage flexibility.

Many years ago I read the prologue to George Bernard Shaw's "Back to Methusalah" where he contended that if people lived much longer they would be learn to organize government better and avoid violence.  Andrew and Lynda contend that issues like climate change will take a different perspective when we realize we and our children will have to live with the environment.

The authors admonish young people to get out to vote.  They are the ones who have the most years ahead of them and they need to be represented by people who understand the issues that help more people to be empowered by a longer life.

If you are younger than 50 this is a critical read for you.  If you are over 50 it is very useful to understand trends.  For more thoughts go to

Friday, October 27, 2017

"The Happiness Hypothesis"? Isn't that your main goal?

Jonathan Haidt has had a profound effect on me.  He was on the Bill Moyers show when first seen and he struck me as a man of deep understanding.  He showed me I am still a prejudiced man and need to better understand other people better.  Happiness is for most people the main goal of life.

"The Happiness Hypothesis" is not a typical self improvement book, but rather a history of different thoughts regarding happiness with much philosophy and more psychology.  Jonathan, himself had first studied philosophy and then moved onto psychology.  Along the way and towards the end there is useful advice if you are ready for it.

He believes humans understand new things through metaphors.  His favourite is that of a rider on an elephant.  The rider represents conscious behaviour and the elephant represents unconscious behaviour (that has accumulated through tens of thousands years of evolution).   The rider has evolved to serve the elephant, to give it more direction.  In another section "with wrong metaphor we are deluded; with no metaphor we are blind."

To survive humans are selfish, but we have had to learn to get along with others.  At one time it was thought survival of the fittest involved physical and mental factors at an individual level.  However more recently we realize that individuals are part of groups and that our membership is also a factor in our survival.

One early effective social inter action skill learned was the principle of reciprocity.  He gives an example from the opening of "The Godfather" where a distraught father asks Marlon Brando to deal with a man who dishonoured his daughter.  He thinks he will have to pay for it, but Don Corleone has something else in mind.  He sees this as an opportunity to expand his network of "friends" who do each other favours.  Movie goers were preparing for a violent movie, but instead it started off with  how the Godfather actually gets things done.

There is a relationship between culture and religion.  We develop trust and co-operation which in turn can effect genetic selection and direct to the benefit of the community.

Happiness is effected by your external circumstances, but another key is internal.   Jonathan feels that the truth is in between where you find true happiness.

Humans have or try to have goals, but in fact it is the effort as much as the achievement the brings happiness.  Once a goal is achieved it is in the past and we look forward to something else to do.  Internally you makes lots of choices and of course react to thousands of circumstances.

One early effective social inter action skill learned was the principle of reciprocity.  He gives an example from the opening of "The Godfather" where a distraught father asks Marlon Brando to deal with a man who dishonoured his daughter.  He thinks he will have to pay for it, but Don Corleone has something else in mind.  He sees this as an opportunity to expand his network of "friends" who do each other favours.  Movie goers were preparing for a violent movie, but instead it started off with  how the Godfather actually gets things done.

Harry Harlow had limited resources and found himself working with rhesus monkeys.  x  His experiments are considered unethical today with isolation and substituting inanimate objects for motherly attention.  What he did prove was that all infants need touching and parental caring to develop normally.  In other words love makes a difference.

Abraham Maslow, a student of Harry Harlow is famous for Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  At the top is self-actualization which could be interpreted as satisfaction or happiness.

Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi is known for the concept of flow.  One is happiest when one is engaged in an activity where they are so engaged they lose concept of time.  An example from the author was riding where some are so engaged that is what they think of most of the time.

The author contends that two areas that are vital for happiness are work and love.  Love seems obvious, but work takes up a lot of time and is where many find meaning.  From Marcus Aurelius--"work itself is but what you deem it."  Many jobs are treated as drudgery, but the author suggests if you apply your strengths any job can become more meaningful.

Happy people are kinder and more helpful.  Voluntary work by elders results in improved health and longer life

Jonathan states that meditation, cognitive therapy and Prozac all have the ability to make for positive changes.

You can

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Born a Crime," the beginnings of Trevor Noah, comedian

When Jon Stewart retired from the Daily Show it was a big surprise that a South African was picked as his successor.  Who is Trevor Noah?   I confess I didn't watch Comedy Central either before or after the transition.  I developed a liking for Jon Stewart from watching him on other shows, and watching the odd clip.  Trevor Noah has not crossed my radar as much, but always in a favourable way.

He is very unique.  This book explains some of it.

The circumstances of his birth were unusual in many ways.  His Xhosa mother was very independent and defied apartheid rules by living in a white area and working in a non traditional job for blacks, secretary.  She befriended a white man, a Swiss German and told him she wanted a child by him. He resisted, but later said he wanted to be involved with his son.  Of course this was made very difficult.  A mixed race chid could be classified as a colored.  This meant he could not be seen with either his father or his mother or they could be jailed.

Trevor could be described as polyglot.  His mother encouraged himHis black relatives asked him to pray in English as non speakers felt that language was more effective  He spoke several African languages, Xhosa, Zulu Tsonga, Sotho, bit of Afrikaans which helped him to socialize with more people and even help him get out of tight spots.

Trevor knew poverty.  As a youngster he learned to like bone marrow and at one point ate a variation of worms.  He was tied to shoplifting where he escaped because camera could not pick up the darkness of his skin.  Stealing was fairly normal but copying CDs to resell was critical to his survival.  Everyone has a story of what they got away with:

Trevor got involved with a lot of questionable activities, that is activities the middle class establishment would question.  In reality he was born into a situation where to get ahead his activities were normal.  If he was a little sharper than his peers he might do a little better.  Inside he had a conscience and was supported by his mother.

An analogy from the author:  "Hustling is to work what surfing the Internet is to reading.    If you add up how much you read on the Internet--tweets, Facebook posts, lists--you've read the equivalent of a sh*t ton of books, but in fact you've read no books in a year.  When I look back on it, that's what hustling was..."

His mother was religious and dragged Trevor to three church services  including one for whites most Sundays.  She ended up married to a charming man (who Trevor also liked a lot), but eventually resented his wife's success and modern habits and became abusive.  Trevor left home and the abuse continued even with another child.  Near the end of the book we learn that she is shot by the now former husband and survives.

Trevor points out some oddities about apartheid.  Chinese because there weretn't very many of them were not classified separately, but for convenience called blacks.  Japanese (whose home country manufactured desirable cars and electronics) were honorary whites--as Trevor points few South African police could tell the difference.

His sense of humour is all through the book, but he covers some serious things.  As a comedian he takes serious issues and frames them from a humorous perspective

Outside the book it turns out that Trevor was threatened by his former step father and fled the country.  His ex step father was convicted of attempted murder.  Trevor felt the South African police did not take domestic abuse seriously enough.

This book is not about his career, but there are a few references.  Copying CDs leads to becoming a disc jockey.  At age 18 he was acting in a role with a South African soap opera.  We learn that at the time of his mother's shooting he had already established himself as a comedian and had even performed in Britain.  Trevor established himself on South African television winning awards.  Got involved with the Daily News and was able to step in after Jon Stewart decided to move on

When he makes you laugh it is probably comparing serious issues with ridiculous juxtapositions.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Miss Sloane, an under-rated movie

"Miss Sloane"(2016) deserved much more attention.   There is a lot of misdirection in the movie, but the meat is not hard for many of us to find.

It starts off with a court scene concerning expenses for a campaign dealing with palm oil from Indonesia.  A viewer wonders what that could lead to, but the misdirection slowly becomes more obvious as they go back in time and two other themes develop; the legal concern of gun control and how lobbying firms operate.

Miss Sloane is approached by a group that wants to get a woman's view of guns so that they could slant their approach more effectively.  She analyzes their situation in short order and rejects the offer.  Next she is approached by a man who tries to hire her for the opposing side on gun control, but again another sharp analysis and a rejection.  However she changes her mind and literaly steals some of her staff to her new project regarding gun control legislation.  One of the staff very coldly rejects her and a nasty interchange takes place.  This holdout offers her insight into Miss Sloane's tactics that we later see enacted.  No loyalty, ruthless, and not confiding with staff,

Miss Sloane articulates her basic approach.  Always be prepared.  Do whatever it takes.  Have a trump card that is not used until after the opposition presents their trump card.

Although the director and writer claim the issue of gun control is really just one of many issues that could have been used for the plot they cover a lot of ground for gun control.  There is not an intention to confiscate guns, but just to keep out of the hands of dangerous people.  Of course the gun lobby sees this a step along a slippery slope.  

The woman's issue is brought up.  The angle is women need protection against bad people.  This is  countered that women are murdered most often by an intimate partner with access to a gun.  The gun lobby specifically fanned fear suggesting the only way to be safe was to have a gun.  All veteran sales people realize that the strongest buying motive is fear, even more so than greed.  Both motivations are on full display.

An argument comparing the acceptance of the need for driver's licence as a concern for human safety is dismissed.   In reality the U.S. Congress in 1996 passed a rule forbidding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from advocating or promoting gun control.  The CDC board over the years to avoid controversy cut all research into gun violence  After the Newtown shootings, Obama requested research to be resumed, but again fearing controversy the CDC said they would only do so if money was set aside for it. Congress rejected any budget for such research.

The Founding Fathers were brought up.  Most people overlook that the circumstances were very different as one example many of the founders were slave owners. The Constitution was a result of compromises between propertied  men (not women) with vested interests.  The 2nd amendment was brought to legislation at a time when America did not have a standing army and it was thought necessary to provide militia with arms.  Of course there is a lot of controversy of interpretation.  What is in the best interest of the country?

The gun lobby always had much more money.  They really represented gun manufacturers.  Miss Sloane is very clever and manages to get a lot of her points to public attention.  In fact she is so good it is decided to take her down.  That is where the opening scene brings our attention to an alleged misdeed when she dealt with the Indonesian palm oil.  If they can prove her misdeed in this case she will be finished as a lobbyist and the gun lobby can rest easy.

Of course you know there will be a twist and it is done quite well.  A few minor twists along the way keep the viewer's attention.   My wife is always suspicious, but I thought the movie could have impact no matter how it concluded.  The final twist package emphasized how slimy lobbying can be and did catch me off guard.

"House of Cards" shows plenty of sleazy manipulations   Lobbyists are in the background.  "Miss Sloane" uses an emotionally charged issue, gun control, but the real focus should be on lobbying, which has seldom been pictured in movies where the politicians essentially do all the dirty work.

The author, Jonathan Perera has a story as interesting as his script.  After graduating from university with a lot of debt he worked a few years with corporate law firms to pay off the debt.  He later taught English in China and more recently in South Korea.  He had longed to be a writer, but had no background and studied online as best he could.  He was originally inspired by a tv interview of Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who confessed his tricks.  He wrote the script and filed it away until he learned the topic might be of interest.  He sent it while still working in South Korea.  This is his first script.

John Madden, the director, British born received his one Oscar nomination for "Shakespeare in Love," (1998), but three of his actors won Oscars, Gwyneth Paltrow, Judi Dench and Geoffrey Rush.       He also directed 4 episodes of "Inspector Morse," and one episode of "Prime Suspect," two of my favourite British detective shows.   Other notable movies were "The Debt," (2010), "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2011) and "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," (2015).

Jessica Chastain plays the ruthless lobbyist.  When you think you appreciate how ruthless she is you get another example that stuns.  With a little observation a viewer might pick up that she is not satisfied with life.  Jessica had received two Oscar nominations in addition for this role. She received nominations for "Zero Dark Thirty," (2012) and  "The Help," (2011).   She also had a role in "The Martian," (2015).

Mark Strong plays a character with a cause, but enough ethics that he balks at when he learns what Miss Sloan does to win her causes.  Mark has been in numerous movies; "The Young Victoria," (2004); "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," (2011);  "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012) and "The Imitation Game," (2014).  He also appeared in episodes of "Inspector Morse" and "Prime Suspect."

Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays a dedicated worker with a personal secret that motivates her. When this is uncovered against her will she becomes a crusader for a bit, but later becomes disillusioned with Miss Sloan.  Gugu gained a lot of attention as the title character in "Belle," (2013) and went on to  "Concussion" (2015) and " Free State of Jones" (2016).  Just recently did a blog on the Free State of Jones" readers might enjoy:

Christine Baranski of "The Good Fight" and "The Good Wife"  in both of which she ironically took up role of gun control advocate, although married to ballistics expert. played a supporting role.  I was surprised to learn she had won Tony awards on Broadway.  Sam Waterson, another familiar face played one of the heavies.  John Lithgow and Dylan Baker had supporting roles as well.

Alison Pill, plays a character who is not what she appears to be.  She carries it off very well.  Born in Toronto she won a best child actress award for "The Dinosaur Hunt," (2000).  She had roles in "Milk" (2008);  "Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010) "Midnight in Paris," as Zelda Fitzgerad (2011) and "To Rome with Love" (2012).

Max Richter composed the music.  He has been a composer for a number of movies I have enjoyed."The Lunchbox" (2013); "Sarah's Key" (2010); "When We Leave" (2010) and "Lore" (2012) all with foreign languages plus ""Shutter Island," (2010).  The funny thing is although I remember they all were good movies, I don't recall the music.  I reviewed some of the music items on iTunes and for the most part they are pleasant enough and catch a mood, but with few exceptions not memorable.  Still he is very good at filling a function.  Supporting a movie with music is not always noticed, but adds to the overall enjoyment and I would say he has added enjoyment for a lot of movie goers.

The cinematographer, Sebastian Bienkov  had been busy working with European films, one of which "Adam's Apples" (2005) from Denmark was very good.  Alexander Berner, the editor had worked on "Cloud Atlas," (2012);  "A Hologram for the King," (2016) and "The Debt" (2010).

Did the gun lobby have anything to do with lack of box office success?  One can detect political views affecting how movies are perceived and supported--I am not immune to movies being hyped and I did see some promotional efforts, but it was never treated like a blockbuster.   It seems like an attention getting powerful movie, but not everyone saw it that way.  Personally I feel lobbyists didn't like it as it hit too close to home.  If there wasn't a formal boycott, I think it very likely there was an informal one.  I confess I tend to avoid movies with political viewpoints I disagree with, but also that such movies can help one realize there is another perspective that needs to be understood.

I do believe that lobbyists can serve an important and useful function.  I hope we don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

The film titles that are boldened are ones that I have seen, although some may be from many years ago

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"The Red Army" and Russian hockey

I am not a hockey fan, but "Red Army"  (2014) brought back memories and an appreciation of how great hockey can be.

I remember the buildup to the first Summit Series vs the Russians in 1974.  They had only played against amateur teams and were sure to be humiliated when they played our pros.  In fact the result was close to the reverse, the Canadians were humiliated in the first few games on Canadian soil.  

Bobby Clarke deliberately injured Valerie Kharmalov, a dangerous scorer which in the end might have been the difference.  The Canadians, woke up and played much better on the Russian part of the tour.  Paul Henderson made the most famous goal in Canadian history and the Canucks pulled it off.

Showed a clip of Don Cherry expressing that the Russians should not be allowed to play in the NHL.   Harold Ballard was famous for not letting any Russian play for the Leafs.   They were not alone, some of it no doubt for anti Communist sentiments then common, but others I think were afraid of the competition.

The film reminded me why I lost interest in hockey and why the Russians revived my interest.  They were very skilled at passing and stick handling and a joy to watch  As a Canadian I had mixed feelings.  I wanted Canada to win, especially at our national game, but I liked the way the Russians played, better than the NHLers.  

I watched one televised game with co-workers which I remember not so much for the excitement as I had a few alcoholic drinks  My job at the time was working with newspaper carriers and the game took place when the kids were in school.  When I got back to work I realized I was in no condition to talk to kids about anything.  Since then I have avoided drinking during work hours.

One of the benefits I got out of it was that the Russians were humans.  They had relationships, although often the coaching made life difficult for them.  The film really made more of that when some of participating Russian players got to explain themselves.  I was also surprised to learn of some coaching politics. Anatoli Tarasov was replaced by Viktor Tikhonov

Russians did make a success in the NHL, lots of them helping to win Stanley Cups and become all stars.  It opened them up to capitalism.  We love to be entertained.  I remember hearing Hillary Clinton commenting that Alexander Ovechkin was more popular than most politicians in Washington.

The Soviet players were regarded as national heroes and were treated as such by the authorities.  Although eastern block countries had to contend with defectors in different sports, the Soviet hockey players for the most part were very content.  That changed in 1989.  Alexander Mogilny was an outstanding young (honoured as best junior hockey player in the world) prospect who had already played at the top level.  After the 1989 world championships held in Sweden he disappeared and found his way to the Buffalo Sabres who had earlier drafted him.

There were a wide variety of interviews, but the main spokesperson for the Soviet side was Vlacheslav "Slava" Fetisov who had a disdain for the interviewer.  Fetisov, a defenseman was a key  person in a group of five players who were very difficult to stop.  He wanted to be able to negotiate with the NHL and although threatened with the end of his hockey career or a demotion he was able to gather a few others and forced the issue.  Part of their salary was to be returned to Russia and they were to play for the national Russian team.  This opened the floodgates and turned out to be very successful.  Fetisov earned two Stanley Cups as a player and one as an assistant coach.  He insisted to Gary Bettman that he be allowed to take the trophy to Moscow.  Despite a total refusal at one time he was able to accomplish this feat.  Fetisov is now involved with the Russian hockey program.

One enlightening moment was when Fetisov was  asked about his younger brother after bragging about how much potential he had.  It turned out that he had died from a car accident.  Then it was admitted that he, Fetisov had been driving.  Another clip with his wife Lata Fetisov explained how she felt ostracized by other NHL wives who treated her as an outsider.

Scotty Bowman, considered one of the best hockey coaches ever was a great believer in Russian players and coached over time, 5 Russian players who helped him win three Stanley Cups for the Detroit Red Wings.

Another interviewee was Vladimir Tretiak who developed a lot of fans in Canada.  He never played in the NHL, although a primary target by the league.  He is now involved with Russian hockey.

There was a lot of politics, captured on archival resources.  Starting with Joseph Stalin who made the decision to make hockey a higher national priority.  Nikita Kruschev and Mikhail Gorbachev each got involved with the hockey program  The KGB was used to minimize chance of defection.  On the other side there was a brief clip of Ronald Reagan and one of Jimmy Carter when he declared the United States would not participate in the Moscow Olympics.  Alan Eagleson was shown as an organizer of the Summit series.  As it happened I had arranged for Alan to be declared the first to be honoured on a Wall of Fame for former newspaper carriers when I worked for the Etobicoke Guardian.  Also arranged for a photo at his office and an interview with one of my carriers.  When his fraud was uncovered  I was already gone from that job.

The Soviets had a system and a national feeder. network.  That was lost when the Soviet Union collapsed and when players left for the NHL. Russia (and their former states) still turn out exciting hockey players and the world is better for it.

Gabe Polsky was writer, director, producer and  interviewer.  This film won audience awards at film festivals in Chicago and Zurich.  He produced "Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans" (2009) which was directed by Werner Herzog.  He also was nominated for an Emmy for the television series, "Genius" (2017).

Werner Herzog, a prominent documentary maker was an executive producer on this film.  He had been a producer, director actor "and writer.   "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (2010) and "Grizzly Man," (2005) were two of his noted works.

Christophe Beck born in Montreal worked on music for "Frozen"( for which he shared an award.  He also was awarded a Prime Time Emmy for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997).  He worked on the music for "The Hangover," (2009) "The Muppets," (2011) and "Ant-Man" (2015)  During this research it dawned on me that there are many people involved in the music--not just the composer, or someone who writes a song, but ask producers and co-ordinators.  Leo Birenberg also worked on "Frozen" as a score co-ordinator.

Cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger had worked with Werner Herzog on "Bad Lieutenant:  Port of New Orleans," and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and "Grizzly Man."  The second cinematographer Svetlana Cvetko had worked "Inside Job," (2010) "Merchants of Doubt," (2014) and "Inequality for All" (2013) for which I included in another blog

As with music and cinematography with two people listed there are also two editors.  As the film took place in North America and Russia the work load  needed to be spread around.  Eli B Despres had written and edited two outstanding documentaries, "Weiner" (2016) and "Blackfish" (2013).  Kurt Engfehrk, the other editor had worked with Michael Moore on  "Bowling for Columbine" (2002) and "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004).

If you are a hockey fan you will enjoy this film and if you are not you will appreciate there is a lot of beauty in the game.

I have bolded the movie titles that I have actually seen.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first experience with the One book One Burlington:

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahershala Ali after this film won Oscar for best supporting actor in "Moonlight" becoming first Muslim to do so.  Well know character in "House of Cards."  His character was a composite of runaway slaves.

Keri Russell got her start as a Disney Mousketeer.  She won a Golden Globe for a tv series, "Felicity."  Also had a role in "Dawn of the Planet of Apes" (2014).  She had the difficult role of playing Newton Knight's only wife who stayed on the property after Newton lived openly with Rachel.  Altogether in reality she had nine children by Newton.  It was said that she probably left Newton after he cohabited with a daughter of Rachel's (by another man) after Rachel died.

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

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

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

Note:  I have seen all the movies listed that have been bolded.  I saw an earlier generation of the Mouseketeers.    One of my more popular blogs included  "The Diving Bell and Butterfly" which you can read at:

Monday, September 4, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more details check out

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Donald Trump's motives may not be pure (they're not), but he raised an issue that makes me pause for a moment.  It is obvious that statues of Confederate warriors have raised emotions with terrible racial implications.  The removal of some of them has become a point of contention for white racist 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 an 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 Islamic terrorists  (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 2016 reading programs for both the Hamilton and Burlington libraries check this link: