Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Early in January saw one of the best of the year, "Lincoln." I had read the book that it was loosely based on "Team of Rivals" of which this was only a small section. The key thing was how Lincoln accomplished his goals. From the book I realize he put his most serious rivals into his cabinet recognizing that they were intelligent men, but also in a place where he had some control over them. He went to great lengths to flatter, bribe, shame many of the opposition to pass the 13th amendment that put an end to slavery before the end of the Civil War. Viewers were made conscious of the terrible tragedy of the war and of his domestic trials.
"The Shawshank Redemption" tops on all time lists and deserves to be. On other lists appears "Vertigo", another masterpiece.
"Lawrence of Arabia" released in 1962 still seems like a modern day blockbuster.
Some classics worthy of the label include "Wait until Dark," "Key Largo," "City for Conquest," "Strangers on a Train," The 39 Steps" and "Harvey."
"The Terminal" from 2004 directed by Steven Spielberg was funny, critical of bureaucracy and an example of adaptability.
"The World's Fastest Indian" was only watched as I was curious about the New Zealand connection. It was a very interesting film. Also watched "Boy" that had been part of film festival in Hamilton a few years back and enjoyed. Started the year with "Once were Warriors" a very powerful film.
A niche I explored was horses. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/02/horses-in-movies.html
Some other English language features I enjoyed included "Silver Linings Playbook" and "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas."
Documentaries. Most of my life I have made an effort to read more non fiction books than fiction, but I think of movies as entertainment, but they also can be effective advocates for a point of view. A chance encounter with Art Dyck opened up a new door. "The Cove", "Who Killed the Electric Car?" "Client 9," "Why We Fight," "Half the Sky," "A Place at the Table." were some that were thought provoking.
Danish films continue to impress me. With the limitations imposed by a small populations Denmark is punching much above their weight class. " A Royal Affair," nominated for an Oscar and "In a Better World" that won an Oscar were two outstanding examples. I also watched "Adam's Apples" which was a very different movie than you would see from Hollywood. Mads Mikkelsen, Trine Dryrholm and Ulric Thomsen are becoming familiar faces.
Expanding my interest in world cinema I started noticing films from South Korea. My early awareness indicated they were heavily into violence. "Silenced" was very graphic, but made a very strong point in a very impressive manner. We may not have that particular problem, but no need to be self righteous, We have had similar problems and have similar culture of social coercion. "JSA" was about a unique Korean situation, the border between North and South Korea where guards stare at one another with guns. A lot of tension and an interesting plot. "The Gifted Hand" seen during an Air New Zealand flight. Saw my first romance-comedy from Korea, "After The Banquet" and found it very enjoyable. "Masquerade" was another gem with a similar factual theme as "A Royal Affair."
"Inside the Sea" Alejandro Amenabar directed and Javier Bardem starred in this 2004 release based on a real story of a quadriplegic who asked for assisted euthanasia. Projecingt his mind was an excellent way of demonstrating his frustration. He was a very intelligent man who wrote-poems. Alejandro incorporated classical and folk music into film, but altered to match the flow of the movie which was very cleverly explained in his commentary. Won best foreign film Oscar. This was my favorite movie I watched this year.
2007 "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" American crew working in French--locked in syndrome--the movie used a fly to play a signficant role in this and another movie. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/10/paralyzed-men-in-4-foreign-movies.html
In Spanish language films I was impressed with "Amores Perros" and "No," both with Gael Garcia Bernal. Also enjoyed "Nine Queens" with Ricardo Darin in Argentina
French movies continued to impress me. "Rust and Bones" got tangled up in Oscar politics, but could easily have been best foreign film. I also enjoyed "Little White Lies" (also with Marion Cotillard) and from classics "Three Colors--White, Red and Blue." I also finally got to watch three movies that had lured me with their trailers that caused me to read all three original books. The movies lived up to the billing: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/02/three-french-movies.html
I re-discovered Hiam Abbass who usually gets supporting roles and leading roles in little watched movies. She is fantastic. Saw her in "A Bottle in the Gaza Sea," "Miral," "Amreeka," "Paradise Now," "Syrian Bride," and "The Visitor". More on her next year.
There is more to Bollywood than song and dance. "Vicky Donor" turned out to have more substance than I anticipated from the subject of a sperm donor. "English Vinglish" was excellent. "Bhaag Milka Bhaag" (one of the best overall films of 2013), "Lootera," "Kai Po Che," "Special 26," and "Raanjhaana" (like a film noir) were also enjoyable. Going back to classics I discovered Srivedi. Realized how she was a logical choice for "English Vinglish". Other Bollywood favorites include "Mr India", " "Ek Hasina Thi" (2004)" I watched two films by Prakash Jha, a director noted for political themes "Arrakhsan" released in 2011 had a strong impact on me http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/10/aarakshan-study-on-education-inequality.html, plus "Satyagraha" from 2013. I have a tendency to think of all films from India as Bollywood, but there are several variations that stand on their own. One interesting film was in the Telegu language, "Morning Raga" acquainted me with Carnatic fusion with its hypnotic fascination. Two posts for Bollywood novices are: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/01/bollywood-star-system.html and http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/02/kissing-bollywood-vs-hollywood.html
There were lots of other movies I enjoyed and had some impact, but a list becomes meaningless if too many are included. Your thoughts are welcome--I will simply add to my list of movies to try to make room for.
Looking forward to (movies I missed) including "Gravity," "The Hunt," "12 Years a Slave," "Philomena," "The Past" etc. etc.
Check last year's film thought: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/12/favorite-movies-of-2012.html
Monday, December 30, 2013
"The Righteous Mind Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion" by Jonathan Haidt is the one I would most recommend. He explains how people develop strong convictions. You will find yourself looking at your own convictions and hopefully understanding if not respecting other people's strongly held convictions. Humans tend to fit themselves into categories. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/02/the-righteous-mind.html
"The Innovator's Dilemma" by Clayton Christensen came up in a business context, but has a message for all of us trying to cope in an ever changing world. Like most people I just assumed that any company that got overtaken by new products was just inadequate, but there is often much more to it. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/03/the-innovators-dilemma.html
"The Signal and the Noise" by Nate Silver was talked about it seemed everywhere. Our lives seem directed by Big Brother sometimes, but in reality there is so much information out there that it takes careful analysis to make sense of it. Nate has some really good insights. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/05/the-signal-and-noise.html
"To Sell is Human" by Daniel Pink is a practical book for anyone. Most outsiders look down upon salespeople thinking they are only doing it because they couldn't get a "real" job. The joke is that almost everyone is a sales person (and that includes you) and that sales skills are often the tools for business and personal success. He has a lot of insights with a strong point of view on ethics (it is really in your best interest). http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/06/to-sell-is-human-and-we-all-do-it.html
"The Power of Why" I learned about from a Peter Mansbridge interview with author Amanda Lang. It really is based on that juvenile smart alecky questioning many parents and teachers find so annoying, but is really the basis for creativity. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/04/the-power-of-why.html
"Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaccson is about a very complex person who had a strong impact on the world and on me personally. I learned on IBM compatible computers, but when a job forced me to use an Apple, I was surprised at how much easier it was to figure out. Steve Jobs is one of the reasons in his perfectionist drive and his philosophy. But he wasn't such a nice guy to most people he dealt with. A most interesting life filled with intense compulsions.
"Lawrence in Arabia" by Scott Anderson was read in December and I watched the movie from 1964. He was a very enigmatic figure who lived in the midst of historical forces. Scott Anderson tries to put his life in the context of Middle East dynamics that we are living with today. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/12/lawrence-in-arabia.html
I read "The Last Crossing" and "A Good Man" both by Guy Vanderhaege, a favorite writer.
"And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini as I had enjoyed his two earlier books.
Two books recommended by Vijayakumar Mk Nair " The Summer of the Bear" and "The Garden of Evening Mists" were richly enjoyed.
"On Sal Mal Lane" by Ru Freeman is deceptive in that it encompasses some serious recent history but by focusing on children in a middle class Sri Lanka neighbourhood interacting with parents and each other. Representing Tamils, Sinhalas and Burghers that divide further with religion. There is no real hate in this group, but there is ethnic/classic snobbery. One connection is through a piano teacher. The first 2/3 of the book is concerned with typical juvenile inter actions, but it stealthily creeps up to the major conflict.
Robert J Sawyer's "Red Planet Blues" is essentially a murder mystery set in Mars, allowing Robert Sawyer to expound on some of his scientific and philosophical views which add to the entertainment and perhaps make you think a little. I am glad I re-expanded my reading to include science fiction which often is profound. To read about my conversion click on http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/09/conversion-can-sneak-up-on-you-too.html
"The Devotion of Suspect X" by Keigo Higashino was the most inventive mystery I recall and then was able to read "Salvation of a Saint" that was also very enjoyable. In both cases the mystery solver does not appear till well into the novel.
From my trip to New Zealand I tried to soak up a little local literature including the classic "The Bone People" by Keri Hulme. A more current one was "The 10 PM Question" by Kate De Goldi. I have gotten interested in two other Kiwi writers which looking forward to reading in 2014.
"The Dinner" by Herman Koch was about a complex family problem peeled off layer by layer at a dinner between family members set in the Netherlands.
"Snowwhite Must Die" by Nele Neuhaus from Germany demonstrates mystery lovers have a wider world to choose from.
Henning Mankell has become another favorite. I read two of his books, "The Shadow Girls" and "A Treacherous Paradise." His writing runs from Scandinavia and Africa. Recently he was on one of the boats trying to get some needed goods to the Palestinians.
Nelson De Mille usually turns out a book every 18 months or soon, but this time re-wrote "The Quest" set mostly in Ethiopia. You can read a personal connection at: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/05/tribute-to-nelson-demille-real-writer-i.html
I discovered Jane Urquhart within the last two years and this year enjoyed "The Underpainter" and "Away."
"The Orenda" by Joseph Boylen received a lot of publicity as a "Heather's Pick" who pointed out not short listed to the Giller award, but in her opinion better. I can't say as I didn't get a chance to read the ones that did, but it was definitely one of the best fiction books for me. Joseph Boylen presented the native and priest viewpoints.
I fear I have done a terrible disservice to authors who provoked my thinking and stirred my pleasure over the past twelve months, but I couldn't squeeze everyone in. This is just one list that might help guide some readers to some joy, but there are a lot of other joys awaiting you.
to read about my favourite books of 2012 go to:
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
The movie, "Lawrence of Arabia" depicting his funeral near the beginning demonstrates a dichotomy with some people adopting a hero worshiping attitude and others thinking he was up to something. Lawrence came to the Middle East to work on archaeological projects. When World I hit the Middle East he was known to have some valuable knowledge of the language and culture as well as some specific geographical awareness. At some stage he stepped beyond being an adviser into being pro active.
One unique characteristic of Lawrence was that he could endure discomfort and pain. He had little if any experience riding camels, but took part in very long treks on a camel to gain respect as well as achieve strategic goals.
Most believe that he was sympathetic to the Arabs while being aware of some double crossing by the English and French. The author reminds us that the French were resistant to any plans to involve Arabs in what is known as Syria. In fact because the French would have been unable to take part in a proposed invasion of Turkey close to Syria they supported the disastrous Gallipoli attack. The French and English in secret wrote the Sykes-Picot agreement which essentially split up Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine amongst themselves. He worked behind the scenes to support the Arab hopes to deciding their own destiny. Some would accuse Lawrence of treason as he divulged some of this information to Arab leaders, notably Faisal Hussein.
One example of Lawrence's brutal practicality was when one fighter was killed by another fighter from a different tribe. He learned that if revenge was enacted by the aggrieved tribe, it would lead to more retaliation amongst tribal members back at the home base. So rather than permit an execution by one tribe on another he personally executed the killer. It was common for Arab fighters to kill prisoners because they did not have the capacity to manage them. In some instances Lawrence was forced to accept this.
There are many who thought Lawrence was a grand stander and he certainly made a lot of decisions behind the backs of his superiors. Scott Anderson does concede that Lawrence had a well developed sense of fair play and felt the British and the French were not playing fair with the Arabs while trying to use them for their own ends.
Juan Cole, complains that the movie, "Lawrence of Arabia" makes Faisal Hussein as not as sophisticated as he must have been in real life. In general he didn't feel that Arabs were given enough credit for the Arab Revolt.
Although T E Lawrence is the dominating focal figure, a great deal of context missing from most accounts was added in. Anderson has included a lot of details of other significant persons. The Turks were in some cases humanized, but the Armenian massacre was noted. There were Jewish factions, some Zionist and some not, but they did set up a spy network. Even the British from India created their own pressures on the Middle East as they were anxious to avoid a Muslim rebellion. The British had different factions maneuvering amongst themselves. The Americans did not declare war on the Ottoman Empire, but an oil man was there misleading the Turks and working towards American ownership.
The Russian Revolution changed the dynamics. When the Russians withdrew from combat both the Germans and the Turks were able to shift troops to the front against the English, French, Americans and their allies. However when the Americans gradually increased their numbers and their training the Germans and Turks succumbed.
Lawrence after the war must have felt himself a failure as he had directed his efforts towards greater Arab independence and found himself impotent in that regard. The creation of Jordan can be traced to some of Lawrence's efforts. He fled to England where many regarded him as a hero, but he sought anonymity and no responsibility. He refused a knighthood.
The author feels although there were many factors to arrive at today's Middle East much of it was cast during World War I and its aftermath. We in the West tend to look down upon the inhabitants, but easily overlook at what was done to create the chaos on our behalf.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
As a youngster I lived in my grandfather's house which was a double lot on a corner used partly for a coal business. My father had moved back home after his father had a stroke when I was about two years old. Since I was about 8 years old (I was the oldest son) I got to shovel the sidewalk. Pretty daunting for an 8 year old, but with no permanent harm. That property has since been taken over by the General Motors Place in Oshawa.
After about the age of 16 my family moved to Haliburton where I spent my last two years of high school before going to the University of Guelph. Eventually got a job and lived in an apartment and boarding houses for a few years, then finally bought my first house on a dead end street. Later moved to another house and then rented for two or three years. Finally I moved to my current house and it was a family deal that couldn't be resisted, but it was on a corner.
Corner houses do have advantages. I moved into my second corner house during the summer and put more emphasis on those advantages. It is nice to have extra parking spots for your visitors. Your location is easier to describe. However when snow starts to fall it is hard to maintain parking spots and you now have a legal responsibility to clear more than twice the sidewalk space as most of your neighbours. Most just have to worry about the front of the house whereas us corner lot owners also have to worry about the length.
There are advantages to all that extra shoveling. Fitness has not always been one of my strengths and shovelling snow did provide a high percentage of my exercise for many years. I am conscious that fitness is something needed to enjoy life more and in fact to shovel snow. Going out into the cold with some heavy shoveling is one immediate cause of heart attacks.
Maybe it builds character. Being at an intersection means I get lots of opportunities to help push cars through to the other side. Jean Chretien, once said something about Canadians in that in the winter we need to work together to get our cars going and one way is to rock back and forth until we find traction and persuading a few pushers to help.
Since I started writing this between shovel sessions I also walked downtown and noticed a few of my corner house colleagues had set a good example. They had punched out a pedestrian walkway through to the street. I have to admit that that pricked my conscience as I also noticed those who didn't make a cut through the snow pile made it much more difficult to get to the other side.
Credit blogging with making me think a little deeper on the subject.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
The book seems to reflect a lot of research on a wide variety of sleep concerns. It will help you to understand the process to better deal with your specific concerns. Research is ongoing and it is likely that there will be much fine-tuning in the future.
There are many sleep conditions and the author grouped many of them that have common remedies. Sleep sanitation was used as a generic process that provides a base for more specific remedies. Such things as temperature, darkness, mattresses, covers, pillows and diet (and eating habits), Much would be considered common sense, but nonetheless often overlooked.
A common factor is stress and Dr Idzikowski suggested a few simple exercises. Time management is important as many people carry their worries into their beds instead of preparing for the next day (set out clothes, make lunch, etc) before going to sleep. He suggests you write down what not accomplished today so you don't have to dwell on it.
Many of us would find some of his suggestions very difficult such as no television in the bedroom or limiting alcohol consumption, but if you have serious problems getting your necessary sleep the more of his suggestions you can accept the more success you are likely to encounter.
Some of his advice is useful to those who do not have trouble sleeping. For instance if you are memorizing information it is more effective to make the effort one hour before sleeping than it is closer to sleeping.
From birth to old age our sleep patterns change. Generally we go through a number of cycles as our bodies consolidate what we have taken in during the day and restore our strength for the upcoming challenges. The number of hours we sleep may change, but the patterns adjust as well.
A key time to develop habits is when we are infants. Of course parents are concerned that they get their necessary sleep to help cope with life's struggles, but they also have an opportunity for their youngsters to develop new habits. The key is to develop routines.
In today global village many people for business or pleasure find themselves going across several time zones. This is a phenomenon our ancestors did not contend with. Dr Idzikowksi has several observations about jet lag that can help alleviate our adjustments.
A quote from "Sound Asleep" that I like comes from Lord Chesterfield, "A light supper, a good night's sleep and a fine morning have often made a hero of the same man who by indigestion, a restless night and a rainy morning would have proved a coward."
To keep up to date try his website: http://www.sleepspecialist.co.uk/
Saturday, December 7, 2013
I first heard of him when he was in jail and the descriptions were mixed. Some people thought of him as a hero while others described him as a terrorist and a Communist. His court speech deals with that I think very appropriately. As I grew up it was common to hear about Communists behind all sorts of movements that sought freedom. In truth the Communists were opportunists offering an alternative rationale and doing what they could to undermine their opposition. Mandela pointed out in his speech that during World War II the Americans and Britons allied with the Soviet Union and were not accused of being Communists.
Those who side with the Western establishment managed to rationalize dealing with South Africa during the apartheid years, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher among them. Dick Cheney recently justified labeling Nelson Mandela a terrorist. Brian Mulroney, also a conservative broke with his colleagues and supported efforts to fight apartheid for which Canadians can take some pride.
Nelson was not above violence, but looked for another way. In prison he had opportunities to read, act in plays, and study.
After negotiations got him out of prison and he eventually became president he adopted an attitude that few in his place would. His former guards were given a place of honor for his inauguaration. South Africa is a tribal society also with significant numbers of Europeans, mixed, Indian Hindus and Muslims. To Nelson they are all South Africans.
Truth and Reconciliation was a unique solution to a common problem. It allowed a lot of people to vent their frustrations with an audience. A few other jurisdictions have adopted the model.
While president, Mandela asked to testify in court, was urged to use his power not to testify. He felt no one should be above the law.
After one term as elected president he stepped down. By itself this was a tremendous model for Africa where it is common for dictators to hang onto power for decades for their own enrichment. His popularity was such that he could have maintained power as long as he chose.
After stepping down he still worked for the betterment of South Africa. He played a small role in getting the World Cup to South Africa. Out of office and with a son who died of Aids he reversed himself and became an advocate fighting the disease.
For a gift card given to me several years ago I bought his autobiography. Well worth reading.
The world has lost a tremendous model. Let us hope the world has learned.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
I have written elsewhere how I became a cat person from definitely not being a cat person. Out of the blue (actually I remember it was raining) a stray tiny kitten who couldn't be more than a few weeks old came up to our screen door meowing for attention. My first reaction was to tell Sharon not to feed it as I was sure it would mooch off us every day if we let it. She kept coming around and Sharon gave in to the urge and even set up a sort of shelter outside our door.
We had another cat and we both felt guilty that during a work day we left her alone all day. I talked to Mary Ditta at work and she advised me how we could introduce the new cat to our house. It didn't work out that way, but I am nonetheless grateful we took her in. Molly our resident cat became very territorial and although she kept her distance her resentfulness never subsided. Molly was much bigger, but Maggie (a name suggested by someone where Sharon works) was faster and could jump higher. Maggie could get up to the heating vents in our basement where she would often hide and then startle someone when she decided to come back down.
Maggie craved affection. Over the years because of work changes I got out of bed second and was expected to make the bed. Maggie decided to "help" out. It became a routine and to be honest something I looked forward to. It didn't take much to set her off purring.
Maggie, even though she came to us from the outside was a bit of a fraidy cat. She wanted to go outside, but when we put her on a leash she became frightened and wanted to come back indoors. She was shy when we had visitors, but occasionally made an appearance.
She was a finicky eater. We searched all over to find something she would eat. After awhile her tastes would shift and we would start all over again.
It seems like only a few weeks ago Sharon noticed she was not eating as much as usual and wasn't her usual frisky self. A trip to the vet revealed she had a tumour and we weren't given much hope for a recovery. We tried to make her last while as comfortable as possible, but she got skinnier and skinnier and more and more listless. It is a difficult decision and easy to double guess, but we decided she was suffering too much although we were reluctant to give her up for our own greedy reasons. We took her in last night. It has been very upsetting to know she will never come up to us again to be stroked. Blue Cross Animal Hospital was very supportive and respectful of our feelings.
Words can't really do her justice. Maggie was a gift that brought a great deal of joy to our lives. I will try to remember the joy as much as the loss.
I am grateful to Renee DiPietro Smyth, a cat lover herself who gave us some advice on how to handle the last few weeks that were very helpful. I am also grateful to Kate Albanese who let me share some of my grief and told me about her own grief over a family cat. Most of all I want to thank my wife Sharon who helped persuade me to let Maggie into our lives, who did a lot of the dirty work (I did some) and who I know is sharing my grief.
I didn't always like cats. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/01/how-i-became-cat-lover.html