Friday, August 30, 2013


Some of you may have noticed my obsession with Bollywood.  But it is all done from the comfort of Canada so I am not really intimately familiar with India.  I know about India from reading, meeting Indians casually on my home turf and of course movies.

Over the years I have formed the impression that although most Indians are relatively dark skinned, most Bollywood stars are relatively lighter.  I don't think this reflects talent or even that us white Westerners would find lighter skin more acceptable.  If true it must reflect something deep in India, perhaps going back to when caste was more dominant.  Conquerors such as Persians, Mughals and British were all lighter skinned and so maybe some people associate lighter skin with power.  Not to be self-righteous colour is very much noticed in North America and in general the lighter the skin the more acceptable.

There are skin cream campaigns by big international cosmetic companies who see opportunity to profit.  On one hand is Shah Rukh Khan, one of my favorites campaigning for Lovely and Handsome for men.  He is tapping into a concern of some Indians (and profiting).  In one year there were over 233 tons of whitening cream sold in India.   Many people think of Shah Rukh as a good looking actor with an outgoing personality and a good dancer.  I enjoyed a lot of his movies, with "Swades" being my top Bollywood movie.  I am disappointed he would be involved in a skin whitening campaign.

Nandita Das is an actress I also respect and admire.  She has decided to become involved with the Dark is Beautiful campaign.  I first saw her in "Kannathil Muthamittal" (Peck on the Cheek) when she played a rebel mother who abandoned her child and skin colour did become a point when her daughter was adopted by a lighter skinned mother.  Nandita appeared in two movies by Canadian Deepa Mehta, "Earth" and the controversial "Fire".  In "Provoked", a British movie she was an aggressive social worker fighting for justice.  Usually Nandita is associated with serious well done movies.  She directed  and wrote the script for a movie, "Firaaq" about riots in Gujarat. In one of her productions she had been assured that the producers would be able to lighten her up, but she didn't want that.  In the photo she is the one on the left.

Kajol is one of my favorites.  Married to Ajay Devgn who is also one of the darker stars.  Her personality comes through as very likable.  I remember one movie, "Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham" where Shah Rukh Khan's father played by Amitabh Bachchan seems to disapprove of her for reasons I would identify as class, but I also think her darkness identified her with the lower class.  But she was such a bubbly person the hero was nonethless attracted to her enough to defy his father.  The two are one of the most popular jodies in Bollywood.

Women stars are almost all relatively white.  Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra and many more.

Beauty and self worth are very personal.  What do men and women feel attracted to?  What traits are less attractive?  Radiant skin is sought after by all and could be a reflection of health.  As a relatively short person I am aware that in general taller men do better in business, politics and socially.

I enjoy a wide range of Indian actors, but as an outsider wonder if I am seeing the real India.   For that matter is realism what we crave from Hollywood or Bollywood?  In reality Hollywood usually projects a glamorous world which is what we prefer most of the time, but I like to see realism once in a while.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Just participated in a unique democratic experiment.  Experimental because it had been tried only once before in Canada.  It will be awhile before it can be properly assessed.  Anytime something is tried initially there are bound to be errors made and as we go up the learning curve results should improve.

Organizers decided to involve a bigger citizen base to help decide how to allocate available money over 31 proposals.  It could get very complicated, but these proposals were ones that had established some support from the community, but were more expensive than could be executed over the following year. A model from South America was used and titled Participatory Budget Ward 2.

What struck me was the difference in attitudes.  Some people saw it as a an opportunity to be taken advantage of.  Others were annoyed at being expected to take an interest.   Some were cynical.  Many were unaware of this opportunity.

This last problem was a concern of the organizers.  In trying to promote a democratic initiative it takes a tremendous effort to get everyone's attention.  To be effective it can cost a lot of money, money that many would argue is a waste.  That money could be spent on something more productive or just not spent to keep taxes lower.

People today in many countries are in survival mode.  Others are happy with the status quo and see no point in rocking the boat.  Most do not appreciate the power they have.  Ignorance is profound.  Most people do not realize they can make a difference.  Most people do not understand the issues or the procedures.

Ancient Greeks are supposed to have developed democracy from a sort of town hall meeting where those present got to vote on a variety  of issues.   If you had the resources to spend the time arguing over issues you could participate and help effect the outcome.

Representative democracy is really what we have.  We elect politicians to represent us.  They are supposed to understand our issues and make sure we get a fair deal.  We also recognize that we have limited time to really understand the issues and trust that our representatives will make the effort on our behalf and take care to protect our interests.

In actual fact many issues are very complicated and negotiations between interested parties are sometimes intense and/or done behind closed doors.  Money often plays a decisive role.  We are supposed to have a level of trust, but many of us are very cynical.

A single voter has limited power, but it can be leveraged.  First by actually exercising their vote.  Any politician who wants power needs to pay attention to someone who takes the trouble to vote.  More importantly is to be an informed voter.  Many people vote like a herd and most are influenced by emotional factors.  A politician cannot ignore either factor no manner how noble they might be.

With all the stresses and distractions in life a voter has power to change things, but really only if they make an effort.  Studying and questioning issues in depth force politicians to confront concerns they might otherwise avoid.  Other potential voters are listening (at least some of them).

There is another way of leveraging your vote.  In truth voting for candidates if there are more than two politicians have discovered a strategy of splitting the vote.  They don't have to necessarily get more than 50% of the vote, just the plurality.  The policies they bring forth, where they direct their financial resources are part of a strategy to hold a base of power and nibble away at their opponents. Proportional voting systems are designed to make sure that every votes count, not just the ones cast for the plurality winner. Under party systems each vote for the party counts towards a total so that although your party may not emerge on top you can still have some representation.   Many countries and elections require a single candidate to get at least 50% + 1 of the votes.

Many people prefer to organize along issues rather than parties.  Supporting a party means inevitably there will be some issue you are not in agreement with.  Supporting an issue can impact all parties.

Traditionally more voting happens at the national level and then at state or provincial level and the least at municipal.  In fact your vote has most impact at the local level and least at the national level.

ADDITION:  Education as always is critical.  We have education to help us read and write and eventually become a productive member of society (get a job in other words).  Civics is not a big deal, but could be.  Future voters (even current voters) need to know how the voting system works and would sharpen debate if we were aware of alternatives that other cultures feel deliver democracy.

It has been rare that a municipality gives voters a voice in activities that can impact them in their everyday lives.  I am humbled that I took part in the Participatory Budget vote in Ward 2 and hope this points to greater opportunities for voters.  I also hope the voters rise to make better choices.

If you do not make the effort others will recognize an opportunity to get their way, often at your expense.   Do not think you have no power to make a difference, but do not be so naive to think that all politicians really have your best interests at heart.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Every second Friday of each month the art crawl is an event I try to take in.  My little story is one of thousands.  There are now new restaurants and new galleries and more musicians than ever.  It is not possible to see everything.  The crowds have been increasing especially when the weather is good as it was for this August night.

A confession.  I took my camera and a few of the shots shown were taken by me at the time, but really a lot of the time I just flowed with the crowd and later went back or dug up photos.  A lot of enjoyment was felt without a camera.

First we decided that the annual trip to the Wild Orchid for their patio Sangria and Mussels deal was overdue.  Good any time during the summer,and very busy during the art crawl.  We thought we arrived early, but the crowds had already started.  Fabulous value.  Just back from New Zealand we appreciated the green lipped mussels and enjoyed some of their Portuguese specialities.

Not too far from there is a marketplace for crafts and I had a bite out of a fruit popsicle from Rudy's.  A tradition has developed in that part of James St where some musicians get together with a jam session and Art Crawl visitors walk between them (or take a moment or two to enjoy).

I mentioned new restaurants popping up and Charred Rotisserie gave everyone a preview as they weren't quite ready to open.   There is a connection with two other restaurants--Jack and Lois and just a few doors away   McCartney and Son, each offering something unique.  They were giving out free samples which I think will give them a quick startup.

More than a year ago I stumbled on two musicians from Ecuador that are part of a group called Tribu.  I was so taken with their music (I have come to love Andean pipe music) that I had gone home and asked my wife if it would be ok to add to my Father's Day presents and went back to buy a CD which I have enjoyed many times since.  They showed up drawing a crowd.

My daughter had recommended a new Peruvian restaurant downtown, but they were only open Monday to Friday during business hours.  I followed them on Facebook and learned they were extending their hours for Art Crawl.  they only have seats for 22, but I was too full for a sit down meal so I ordered one of their empanadas.  While waiting I got talking to the chef, Juan who asked me if this was my first visit and when I admitted it he gave me some small snacks and a drink and explained their uniquesness.  The empanada was great and I hope they extend their hours more often.

Another restaurant back on James Street, Ventura had been renovating and unvielled the results.  They now have windows that open up towards the street.  They have built up a good reputation as a top Portuguese restaurant over several years and now have noticed the Art Crawl and are becoming more involved.

 Across the street while my wife and daughter and friends were checking out another craft store I watched two mobile musicians.  They were carted around by a bicycle and stopped wherever they could find a parking spot, but performing while traveling.
 I did visit a few galleries and craft shops, but went up a few steps to visit Lester Coloma who amongst other things likes to do outdoor murals (one is below).  One of the advantages of participating in the art crawls is that you get to talk to artists who are quite willing to explain their thinking and technique behind the art.  Lester is a good example.  I am looking forward to a mural he has been asked to do for next month's Supercrawl.

I will be featuring Dave Gruggen Photography in my next newsletter and was pleased when he relocated his studio to James St North.  He does aerial photography and has been given a contract to show the progress made on the new stadium replacing Ivor Wynne stadium and you can follow the progress as well.  He always has some impressive large photos of people you might recognize.

Another art show I would like to mention was the last one we visited at the You Me Gallery which happens to be only a few blocks from our home.  They had large photos of families, many from my North End immigrant neighbours depicting family meals.  There was writing on the walls describing their feelings of being part of Hamilton, but also enjoying their different traditions.

The Art Crawl attracts people from all over and I believe gives something for Hamilton and the North End to be proud of.  The crowds must be spending some money and businesses are recognizing this is a good place to put their money.  Each one is unique from previous ones.

Friday, August 2, 2013


My self perception took a beating when many years ago I was re-tested for a driver's license after accumulating a certain number of demerit points.  Naturally it was unfair, at least in my mind.  The last speeding ticket had been in what I  considered a speed trap.  I started to verbalize my complaints to the testing officer who had heard it all before.  His response has haunted me ever since, "Think about all the times you didn't get caught!"

That shut me up.  Am I alone?  Haven't most of us gotten away with a lot of things that could have led to inconvenience or much worse? Include such things as speeding, talking/texting on a cell phone while driving, telling white lies (or worse), padding expenses, cutting corners, fudging details on a job or loan application, etc. etc.  In some cases you were lucky nobody was directly injured in one way or another or that you didn't get caught.

It is human nature to push the limits until you find out what they are, starting when you are born. Many of us go past the limits, but most are smart enough to find our limits before serious damage is done.  If you do something wrong (it could be accidental) and there are no negative consequences we have a tendency to repeat if the experience was positive.  A lot of petty thieves are caught because their earlier successes have emboldened them to push towards the limits.  Eventually you are likely to get caught.

At the same time humans tend to be self-righteous about someone who did get caught.  One of my favorite movies was "Angels with Dirty Faces" with James Cagney and Pat O'Brien.  As youngsters they both had done something that could get them in a lot of trouble, but Pat O'Brien ran a little faster. Unfortunately James Cagney was caught and sent to a reformatory where he became hardened.  The company he found in the reformatory educated him in the wrong way and when he got out he was treated as someone tainted, but with a tough guy reputation that impressionable youth admired.  In the meantime Pat O'Brien learned a lesson and reformed himself eventually becoming a priest.  The difference in character originally was very slight, but the end result was dramatically different.  The movie ending left a character lesson that was very brutal and stark.

This is not to say that you should accept every criminal or immoral act or even simple faults that cross your life, but that you should refrain from being self-righteous about it.  Forgiveness benefits not only the person forgiven, but also the forgiver.  I continue to repeat actions that have had no (or few) negative consequences, but recognize there is a limit for me.  Also there is a limit for you.

The photo is of me is while at the Auckland Museum in front of a Maori pole sticking out my tongue trying to look fierce as part of a haka, but in reality was a little dumb.