Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Social Conquest of Earth deals with the really BIG questions.

Bill Clinton was asked by Fareed Zakaria to make one book choice and he insisted on making two--this was one.  It asks the really big questions.

The author, E. O. Wilson takes us through an evolutionary history of humans with some cultural elements.  Our survival was precarious with lots of little details that are critical--grasping hand, capturing fire, having a nest to defend,  sex and bonding for more effective parenting, bipedal posture to free hands and give a different perspective.  Intelligence developed as memory increased.  All critical details that led to our present abilities.

Humans see themselves as at the top of the heap.  Wilson studied insects and noticed that some insects such as ants, termites, wasps and bees had a social organization equal to humans.

Insects are useful as a comparison point for social organization.  A  key thing for eusocial insects is a nest to defend.  Once that is established specialization can move to more complexity so that the whole colony is strengthened.  Humans are in a parallel universe.

Genetic adaptations are very common and when coinciding with the right circumstances can expedite cultural adaptations.  Most adaptations are minor and are not carried on.

Humans do most of their perception through sight and sound whereas almost all other species rely more on the  chemical senses, taste and smell.

Along with Charles J. Lumsden, E. O. Wilson developed the concept of "gene-culture coevolution."  Culture and genetics developed hand in hand.

Religion is thought to be a type of glue holding us together in groups.  I have been encountering this theme elsewhere in recent books, but the foundation is better established here.

Papal policy has been against contraception on the basis that the only purpose of sex is procreation.  The author points out that in evolutionary terms sexual pleasure helps to bond males to females.  He also feels that homosexuality serves a benefit to the group by providing diversity.

The arts have played a role in evolution.  Cave painting go back thousands of years into pre history.  It is difficult to prove pre historical music because no one kept musical scores, but we do know there were rudimentary instruments.  Wilson speculates that music combined with other arts helped invigorate humans and points out that it does affect the structure of our brains.

For me wrestling between the merits of non fiction and fiction has been a struggle.  Non fiction is about the truth, isn't it?  E O Wilson sees another path and quotes Picasso, "Art is the lie that helps us see the truth."

In the prologue he refers to a famous Paul Gauguin masterwork with some description and notices that there are three sentences .  "D"ou-Venons Nous.  Que Sommes Nous.  Ou Allons nous."  Translated they become the biggest questions of the book, "Where have we come from?  What are we?  Where are we going?"  At the end we see a reproduction of the art work.

Wilson feels earth could be a paradise for all humans.  Two concerns he brings out are the need to deal with climate change and diminishing biodiversity.

All though the book one is confronted with profound thoughts.  A few insights (for me) have been highlighted but it is important to understand the development.  This book is well worth reading and I suspect any other books by E. O. Wilson.  A source for further E. O. Wilson insights is

Saturday, November 29, 2014


The Netherlands is a small country, but they do have a long history of artistic achievements.  Not that many examples of films have broken thorough barriers to my accessibility.  European history can be very complicated and confusing.  The Netherlands was a major world power at one time and have left a global footprint.  Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have had many border changes amongst them.  The Dutch have their own language, but share a dialect, Flemish with other parts of Europe.

At the beginning I was just looking for interesting movies.  A problem is language as the Netherlands and Belgium overlap a bit with each country trying to take advantage of commonalities,  The politics is difficult for me and since I rely on subtitles some subtleties are undoubtedly missed.  There are many dialects between the Netherlands, Belgium and France but television is having a standardizing effect.

First Dutch movie that reached my attention was "Bride Flight", mainly because of my interest in New Zealand.  Soap opera type of plot well done. Beautiful scenery.  Directed by Ben Sombogaart and written by Marieke van der Pol who had teamed up together for an earlier classic "Twin Sisters."

"Black Book"  set in World War II is carried by Carrice van Houten who plays a Jew caught up in the Nazi occupation.  She might be better known through "Game of Thrones" and she is certainly impressive in "Black Book"  Directed by Paul Verhoeve.  It is  pretty graphic and powerful.

"Character" came out in 1997 and won the Oscar for best foreign film.  Prior to that other Dutch movie, "Antonia's Line" (1995) and "The Assault" (1986) had won best foreign film honours.

For "The Heineken Kidnapping" Rutger Hauer, an international star came back home to play a very powerful man who undergoes a strange transformation after his kidnapping  Story told from kidnappers viewpoint.  One of the motivating factors was the fact the head kidnapper's father had been fired from Heineken due to alcoholism.  He claimed he had been coerced into drinking on his sales calls and this pricked the conscience of Heineken after he resolved his post kidnapping feelings.

"Twin Sisters" based on popular novel was made into a film in 2002.  It used three pairs of actresses as the sisters at different ages.  All six were excellent.  I especially liked the two who played the women in their twenties, Thekla Reuten and Nadja Uhl.  The two twin sisters are separated from each other, one in Germany and one in the Netherlands.  The Dutch one loves a Jew and the German one marries a SS officer (not as bad as it sounds) and with the tensions of World War II the two sisters when finally finding each other come to be mutually hostile.  An outsider can appreciate neither had much choice, but each was decent in their own way.  Very well done and enjoyable.

"Winter in Wartime" also based on a best selling novel.  Told from the perspective of a 14 year old boy in occupied Netherlands.  Who can you trust?  Open defiance is not effective.  Exciting horse chase which ends in tragedy for the horse.

One impressive Belgian actor now taking English, Flemish and French roles is Mattias Schoenaerts.   The financing of movies often involved Belgian and Dutch investors as well as talent.  Mattias caught my attention in "Bullhead" which is a brutal movie that was nominated for an Oscar and the French language "Rust and Bone."  He is also making a mark on English speaking films.

Like to include one comedy when reviewing a nation's film output.  "Black Out" supposedly copies some Hollywood movies with its humour coming from grossing out, but also satire--racist, homophobic, sexist plus social media.  The lead man, Raymond Thiry was a very good choice (remembered from "Winter in Wartime").  Compared to Quentin Tarentino, but tamer (and I think more subtle).

"North Sea Texas" was listed as a Dutch language movie, but I learned it is a Belgian production.  It is a gay themed movie which seems a more relevant genre than it used to be.  If you like gay movies it is good without being very explicit.

I find a lot of good movies come from small countries.  They do not have the scale of population and money that enables a lot of movies so there is a careful selection process.  Often actors and technicians have to go elsewhere to make a living, but are able to return home as experienced participants.  Many of us in the English speaking world are ignorant of history and culture of the rest of the world.  There is a richness that is well worth seeking and movies are one aspect.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Today's world is very different than the one us baby boomers grew up in.  Marketing was used as an euphemism for selling unless you were academically inclined.  Now marketing means data mining and all sorts of clever studies to help manipulate prospects more effectively.  Social media seems to many very flighty, but apparently another form of manipulation.  Or maybe it is a tool with a life of its own.

This book is in two sections--one is about being awesome and the other about not being awesome.  You can learn something positive from both sections, but the author seems to be catering to the fact that people fall into the two tracks of either starting from positive or from negative.

Scott brings a different perspective.  Social Media can be like other forms of manipulation, but there can be another dimension.  You can engage with real people and you might find his philosophy works even outside social media   Social media doesn't make a company bad or good, but it does amplify what they already are.   A previous book, "Unmarketing" introduced me to his philosophy and ideas.  You can read about it at

Social media offers new opportunities for businesses to develop customer relations.  As Scott points out most businesses know how they should respond to phone calls, but too often ignore social media messages.  They should be treated as quickly as possible whether positive or negative.  Positive messages should be acknowledged and of course negative messages require serious attention.  Often negative messages (complaints) occur on other sites, but can be monitored.

Scott used an example of someone I know, Chris Farias who received some poor treatment from a company he was dealing with that started a chain of negative social media.  At a more local level Chris was involved in a misleading venture for my family.  Chris actually gave out what we all thought was a heavily discounted meal at a local restaurant that turned out to be a big letdown.  Chris took it personally and supported us on social media and I notice that restaurant is no longer there.

All business decisions seem to revolve around ROI (return on investment).  Social media can be difficult to correlate investment with efforts to results, but Scott gives some convincing examples of how it can be very positive.  Or negative if you don't do it right.  A quote from Scott to remember, "If we don't value conversation we will never see why we need to use social media."

Statistics are abundant on social media, but can be misleading.   For example someone with 1000 followers may have only 10% online at any given time and only 10% of those will see a particular tweet and when down to that only about 10% of them will click on a link.  A tweet or Facebook posting can have a limited shelf life.  Although it may take an effort to develop positive relationships online it is very possible to wreck your network with a poor choice of a posting.

There are plenty of examples and tips anchored by his philosophy.  One of the highlights for me was when Scott was on his way to make another point he revealed Newt Gingrich for the pompous know it all he really is.

Scott has been a front line worker and realizes they are often the poorest paid and least appreciated of employees, but represent the company to most consumers.  They should be selectively hired, properly trained and above all appreciated.

After reading what twitter can do it makes one want to get more involved.  There is more to it than learning where people eat lunch.

To find out more check out his website:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

WORLD TOILET DAY...something you might have missed

Did you miss it?  I did.  November 19th, 2014 was only the second day designated World Toilet Day and for most of us it might have seemed a weird thing to celebrate.

Only it is not so much a celebration as a call to do something about the lack of toilets for over 2.5 billion people.  Most westerners take toilets for granted and the thought of being somewhere without acceptable access turns up our noses.  We are vaguely aware that some people use outhouses and other facilities we do not know of or care to know about.

It (the lack of toilet access) is a problem with international implications, but of course impacts locally a lot more for some.  One of the prime concerns is the spread of disease.  With proper sanitation which includes more than just toilets much disease is controlled and in western cultures is a prime reason we live longer, healthier lives.  Open defecation, common in parts of the world helps spread disease, including diarrhea.

Easy access to toilets actually helps productivity.  This becomes evident when toilets are not accessible and great efforts (or suffering) to find one take away from other activities.  Some people of course are quite used to going anywhere and too often privacy is not a big concern.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has made increasing toilet accessibility a priority of his government.  He has pledged to increase toilet accessibility to 600 million more people by 2019.  Prime Minister Modi realizes that not only is the current situation unhealthy it is holding back his country just as they are becoming a major economic power.

The lack of toilets is a special concern for women.  The lack of toilets at schools has discouraged girls from going to school particularly when they reach an age when they menstruate.  Going outdoors at night has been found to attract sexual attacks.  Women (and men) are reluctant to go some places where they know there is not reasonable access to toilets.  It may seem trivial but toilet accessibility has an impact on education as well as productivity.

The problem is not just one of supplying toilets, but sometimes of breaking old habits to ensure newer healthier habits.  Public health workers are being trained to help educate the public.  I am sure someone will be able to make money from dealing with this problem/opportunity but it is also a need for government to facilitate a solution that benefits everyone.

Awhile back I remember watching a Bollywood movie, "Paa" that alluded to the problem of people defecating publicly and how difficult it would be to deal with the problem.  It was just a small issue, but drew attention of many people who prefer not to think of the problem.

This is not a problem I have thought much of as with most of you I take access to toilets for granted.  For more information including how you can help:

Monday, November 17, 2014


The author Scott Atran is an anthropologist and like most of us has heard descriptions of terrorists as religious or political fanatics.  What surprised him is that other factors turned out to be more critical.  If we start with wrong assumptions it will be more difficult to find a solution.

Evolution theory has focused on individual traits, but lately more attention is being paid to group dynamics--how did one group survive?  Co-operation and sacrifice for the common good has played a role.  In the early stages of human development relatively we had weak bodies, but big brains and a tendency to be gregarious.

In fact ideology and religion are forces that unite groups even as each believer may have different degrees of faith.  Trusting strangers is a very necessary factor for civilizations to develop.  Even so we are suspicious of people who do not look like us, do not express themselves the same way or who do not respect our sacred values.  We can affiliate with "strangers" more readily if they share some of our values.

Sacred values are personal and group priorities that we can identify (sometimes with help), but we don't always understand the sacred values of others.  Sacred values are often so strong with a group that they cannot be pushed away by mere material considerations.  One example might be Palestinians feel they have a right to the same land that some Jews feel they have a right to.  Offering cash and like considerations while ignoring their attachments to the values is an insult and can actually harden feelings.

Scott noticed that many of the terrorists went to the same school or played soccer together.  In some groups the heroes were sports celebrities and in others terrorists.  Some were admired and aspired to, not necessarily because of religious beliefs but because they stood up for the group.  What gives some of them meaning is publicity which he feels our media is complicit in giving them.  Publicity makes heroes.

What turns many people to terrorism (or sympathy for terrorists) is unemployment, poor schooling, and political marginalization.  He cites African Americans in the United States and Muslims in Europe.

In passing  there was an interesting quote from Andre Malraux as follows:  "The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random among the profusion of the earth and the galaxies, but that in this prism we can fashion images sufficiently powerful to deny our nothingness."  Realistic, but hopeful that there is some meaning in life.

A lot of critics of terrorism point out the religious content and wondering how the perpetrators could be so misled.  Scott contends that the critics are overlooking the social content.  Most religions, including Christianity have violence in their messages.  Again religion unites people.  The author is an atheist and thinks of religions as belief in the absurd, but points out that rituals that indicate our acceptance of the absurd bonds people together.

Terrorism should not be the priority it is because the average person has many more likely life threatening concerns (that they mostly ignore).  We need to get beyond the stereotypes and learn the root causes.  Many feel the outside world is against them.  In truth we do not understand a lot of foreign customs.  The author suggested one Afghan custom was underestimated and that is the importance they place on treating guests even if they do not see eye to eye with them.

Another recommendation from Fareed Zakaria.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


A previous blog on Glenn Ford attracted attention (most popular post of 2014 so far).  Nostalgia is an indulgence as we age.  Ray Milland was in a number of enjoyable movies that few seem to recall.  In the latter part of his career he performed in a number of B movies that may have sullied his reputation, but if you like old movies you might enjoy checking some others that made him a star.

Raymond Milland was born and raised in Wales.  His early interests were sports.  He was an accomplished horseman and part of the Household Cavalry that guarded the Royal Family.  He worked his way up in the films and by the 1930's he was well established at Paramount.

In "The Major and the Minor "the plot stretches credibility a bit, but is enjoyable once you accept the premise.  This gorgeous woman (Ginger Rogers)  is forced to pretend to be a young school girl to save money on a trip back home and meets up with a major who wants to get into the war while his fiancĂ© is sabotaging his efforts to keep him at a military academy.   Lots of juvenile humour, but the romance does get through.

In "Beau Geste"  Gary Cooper is the lead in this romantic adventure story.  I was young when I first saw this movie and was fascinated by it.  You realize at the very end that the Gary Cooper character arranged an adventure to save the honour of his aunt.  In the end Ray Milland gets the girl.

"The Lost Weekend" was his most famous movie where he won an Academy award.  Billy Wilder took a chance to offer a more challenging role (others had turned it down). After seeing the script he said he would have to give his acting more serious effort.  He was never given another such role.

"The Big Clock" was suspenseful.  Charles Laughton was the bad guy who tried to frame Ray Milland and had him cornered.  Saturday Night at the Movies on TVO ran an interesting double feature- with "No Way Out" starring Kevin Costner in an adaptation of the same plot.

"It Happens Every Spring" portrays a fantasy of lot of men who fancy if things were just a little different they could be a big major league baseball star.  Ray makes a flukey discovery in a laboratory  that allows him to pitch a baseball that is almost impossible to hit.  The mechanics of his discovery would have had other applications, but baseball was his passion and he disappears to indulge his fantasy.  A lot of laughs and you find yourself rooting for him.

In "Love Story" he plays a cold hearted father while Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw make us cry.

In "Dial M for Murder" Raymond is again  not a nice guy.  Alfred Hitchcock lays a lot of suspense also using Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings.

Somewhere around in the 1950's he became involved with B movies.  "Panic in Year Zero" was one I saw. and enjoyed a bit.

"The Man with the X ray Eyes" is one  I vaguely remember this when as a youngster I watched a lot of B movies.  A critic, Michael Almereyda on a special feature thought that this was one of Ray Milland's better performances, even than "The Lost Weekend."

"Man with Two heads"  is one I didn't see nor do I wish to.  He is one of the two heads.

In getting prepared for this post I watched a few movies I had missed.  "Ministry of Fear" was one of his better ones made in England during World War II.  In "Reap the Wild Wind" he played an unusual role that saw him actually defeat John Wayne in a fight while playing a foppish lawyer in the deep south during pre Civil War times.  "River's Edge" makes him a cold blooded killer ironically fighting with Anthony Quinn who seems more natural in the heavy roles.

I look on Ray Milland as a sophisticated nice guy.  I was shocked to see him in negative roles.  However as I mature (?) I appreciate versatility in actors.  He had stated that he looked for originality in scripts as one rationalization for his choice of roles.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Is there still a place for horses in the modern world?  Do they add value to humans?  Some say horses have had their day and no longer fit into modern life.  They used to conquer and discover land for us and worked it.  They used to transport people and goods.  Of course rich people still amuse themselves with horses.  Some people have discovered horses can help other people in the strangest ways.

A book that has stuck in my memory, "The Taos of Equus" by Linda Kohanov was my first awareness that horses were being used for psychotherapy.   Criticisms of her included that she had far out ideas of psychic connections.  As an outsider  some of her writing did seem far fetched, but a strong core stuck with me.

 "The Power of the Herd" is a later book written by Linda and it affirms much of her earlier thinking and goes into matters more deeply.  From studying horses and horse people (George Washington and Alexander the Great) she feels humans can learn a great deal about relations from horses.  She offers human-development sessions using horses.  Her book is like a human relations guidebook except she starts with horses.  A key difference is that horses are non predators, while humans are predators.

Horses are flight animals and very sensitive to determining the intentions of any creature approaching them.  Linda discovered that a horse is very difficult to fool.  It can tell if you are confident or if you are hiding some insecurity.  Two groups that got involved with equine assisted psychotherapy were troubled teenagers and battered women.

You can read more of Linda's work with horses helping people at:

Handling a horse can develop confidence.  Grooming a horse can be calming. as can just walking a horse, etc

Watching "The Horse Boy" directed and produced by Rupert Isaacson I learned that autism can be helped with horses.  Rupert's son had autism and he and his wife despaired of ever finding a way to reach inside their son.  We saw instances of  their son having fits and heard talk of his incontinence.  The father searched for a solution and with his horse background he stumbled on the fact that his son related better to a horse than to people.  Combined with an interest in shamanism (from earlier experience in Africa) he researched and found a culture that combined horses and shamanism--the Mongolians.  There were a lot of tense moments and disappointments along the way.  The change was dramatic.

Recently the RCMP concerned that more officers are dying from suicide than from on duty shootings have offered a program for officers suffering from PTSD that includes their wives.  Horses were a key component.

Other conditions that respond to equestrian therapy include eating disorders, alcohol and drug recovery, wounded warriors, Alzheimers

Another website for more

As humans we think we are superior to animals.  Maybe we take too much for granted and maybe we don't make the effort to discover the many hidden wonders of the world.  People who enjoy horses seem to enjoy life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


The U.S. mid term election results were very upsetting to us liberals.  Can American voters really be that dumb or that apathetic?  They very clearly voted against their own self interest, unless the individual was in the 1% crowd.  The media has to bear some of the blame as they were not at all forthcoming with keeping politicians honest.

It is not true that the Democratic economic policies were ineffective or that the Republican agenda would be an improvement.  It is not true that Obamacare was an abysmal failure.  It is not true that the White House screwed up the Mid East after the previous administration had gotten it under control.

It is true that the Republicans very deliberately  did everything in their power to block Democrat policies and to distort the results.  It is true that the Republicans did what they could to represent the interests of the 1% at the expense of the bottom 90%.  It is true that by denying climate change they are dangerously delaying any remedy.   It is true that Republicans spent a great deal of time and money stirring up false scandals instead of seeking workable compromises.  It is true that under Democrats the economy did improve significantly and that health care dramatically improved for millions of Americans.

Unfortunately we live in the "interesting times"  referred to in a Chinese curse.  Solutions to the many problems require a delicate balance.  Instead we are about to have the rhetorical heat edged up a few notches.

How did they do it?  FEAR, GREED and IGNORANCE.  It is easy to stir fear and greed amongst the ignorant.  People naturally want more out of life and fear a lot of things.  We all have a tendency to think short term, but decisions made today affect everyone for a long time, including our descendants. Everything affects our neighbourhood, but we need to look at a much larger picture.

I would like to run down a few issues to help explain my disappointment.  It may seem a bit disjointed as I should admit I am not in a good mood nor as coherent as I would like.

DEBT is not a good thing.  Yes, spending someone else's money is easy to do and can easily get out of hand.  Waste needs to be targeted, but also priorities within our limited resources need to be determined.  There are many problems that should be dealt with listed elsewhere.  Taxation is not a dirty word.   As others have said it is the price of civilization.  There are more than enough resources to give all the people a better opportunity to contribute and share the rewards.  The very rich benefit from a robust infrastructure, educated population, pollution free atmosphere, legal framework that prevents abuse, defence against our enemies and much more and if they are unwilling to pay their fair share we will all suffer.  Contrary to many perceptions the Democrats handled debt much better than the Republicans.

JOBS are important.  We all need to understand that jobs are generated by consumers, not just investors and innovators.  Not only are the jobless a drain on the economy, unable to support business, but idleness does create bad habits and resentment.  The government is really a facilitator.  Government workers help facilitate their country in countless ways.  Regulations may seem onerous and can certainly be overdone, but without them there would be a dog eat dog world.  We shouldn't be living to work, but we should be working to live. In the future, automation will make it possible for more people to contribute and to enjoy life.  We don't need greedy profiteers steering our future.

INEQUALITY is not just an abstract notion.  If gone too far it has negative impacts on everyone.  Eventually it can lead to revolution and violence.  To some degree it is inevitable, but at some point is unhealthy.  One solution is progressive taxes.  Everyone is entitled to necessities, but those who have benefited from society need to share some of the cost.  A delicate balance.

$4 BILLION CAMPAIGN EXPENSE  This ensures a number of negative things.  More time spent on fundraising than on resolving difficult issues.  More obligations to special interests. There is a need to understand the issues and how they connect, but currently that is all obscured with negative campaigns and manipulating data.  Debates to some extent are artificial, but offer an opportunity to thrash out the issues.  Too many candidates avoid debates and hard questioning.  Each serious candidate should have a platform to explain what they have to offer and why they are the best choice, but ideally this platform should be relatively equal so voters can make an objective choice.  Not likely to happen.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  Who do you believe?  Those with an interest in the status quo or those who have studied the issues in an objective atmosphere?  It requires individuals, but more importantly global co-operation.  We cannot expect the other guy to act first, but need to lead by example and by intelligent argument.  We are all losers if we don't soon come to grips with the problem.  Governments, even though some think they are the problem are necessary to co-ordinate an international response.  What is fair for those invested in current system and what is fair for those not so fortunate?  What are we leaving for future generations?  Some  serious delicate negotiations are required and soon.  Climate deniers need to get with it.

OBAMACARE--this is the most ironic of all.  The path chosen is one originally touted by Republicans.  Americans need to look at the rest of the world--medical costs and medical benefits are much more satisfactory in other developed countries.  Medical problems are not the major cause of bankruptcy in other nations.  Healthcare is essential for the economy and defence of a country.  It is amazing how ordinary people have been fooled on this one.  Republicans show a disdain for making it better.

INTERNATIONAL WAR AND PEACE.  The world can be a dangerous place.  There is distrust and fear that leads to violence.  Ignorance of different countries and cultures is unhealthy.  Americans would benefit from being more multi-lingual.  It seems likely the American posture will be more belligerent.

SOCIAL ISSUES are with some groups so powerful they overcome economic self interest.  Abortions and gay rights still seem to be wedge issues with some segments.  Abortion is the unhappy solution to what some people feel is a problem, an unwanted pregnancy.  Some die and others are rendered sterile in the effort and others end up in poverty.  Sex education and provision of contraceptives have proved to be effective, but are opposed by those who reveal their real motivation is that promiscuity should not be allowed.  That also seems to be a factor for those upset over gay rights.  Why should we reward people for having sinful "fun."  The world needs more love and less hate.

Racial attitudes seem unhealthy.  Many dismiss the "race card" but fail to acknowledge there are racial inequalities in America that go back centuries.  Racial injustice hurts all of us and perhaps this mid term is another example.

WHY?  who really gains from the election results?  The 1% must have gained something because they donated a lot of money for the result.  Surely the other 99% must realize it wasn't much to their benefit.  All of us are guilty of not making enough time and energy to study the issues and to vote our conscience.  The politicians have used their resources to take advantage of us.

I don't mean that one party has all the answers, but we need to examine which one is going in the direction we need.  What needs to change to go in that direction?  Campaign finance, fair voting districts, fairer voting regulations and perhaps most of all a mechanism for truth.  Democracy still seems like a great idea, but last night the American example is a bit tarnished.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Rani Mukerji, maturing actress

At first Rani seemed too sophisticated for my taste,  maybe too sophisticated for Bollywood.  One of the first movies that created this impression for me was "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" where she played the British educated daughter of a school principal coming back to India and winning the heart of Shah Rukh Khan.  They married, she died and the movie switched focus to Kajol in what is one my favourites.  In another movie seen shortly afterwards "Chalte Chalte" she again played a sophisticated woman who married down in class to Shah Rukh Khan and there was (verbal) fighting right through to the end of the movie including a break up and even their make up.

Still another sophisticated role, this time as a lawyer in Veer-Zaara who helped free Shah Rukh Khan to be with Preity Zinta in their old age.  I was catching on that Bollywood loves experimenting with different jodies.

One of her trademarks is her husky voice.  I would add her smile is very warming, but when she gets upset get out of the way!

In "Kabhi Alvida naa Kehna" she played a woman who just didn't love her husband (played by Abischek Bachchan), although he was a good and loving man.  Instead she fell for a married man, Shah Rukh Khan and suffered for it.  Lots of emotion.

She played a number of movies as either the leading lady or the jilted one and for the most part one could understand why the hero wanted her and were perplexed when someone else was preferred.  Typical Bollywood where women seem to have their lives revolve around the hero who is the real star.  Rani has taken on acting challenges. Perhaps the best one was in "Black"  where she played a deaf and blind woman and another good one was "Nobody Killed Jessica" where she played a foul mouthed journalist campaigning against an injustice.

She has won several acting awards most notably for "Black." She won jodie awards with Abhishek Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan, but to my mind was matched best with Shah Rukh Khan.  One of my favourites was in "Paheli"

One movie, "Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic," is awkward because it should be child friendly but wasn't in a few scenes.  It contains two favourite song videos starring Rani.  In both she plays a sort of rebellious angel with music from my favourites, Shankar Ehsaan Loy.  Earlier she had played in two other roles with Saif--"Hum Tum" and "Ta ra Rum Pum."

In "Dil Bole Hadippa"  she played a tomboy fixated on cricket.  She masqueraded as a man and was able to perform at a high level, but of course romance intruded in the person of Shahid Kapoor.

In "Talaash" she played with Aamir Khan as a suffering wife who had lost a child.

"Mardaani" her most recent is an action movie with Rani providing the action.   The bad guy played by Tahir Raj Bhasin in his first role captured a lot of attention.  It was also a movie about sex trafficking which is a major problem in India.  She demonstrated there is more to acting than romance.

She married in 2014 to Aditya Chopra a prominent producer and screen writer.  In the past marriage sometimes ended or at least interrupted a movie career for an actress.  She would be very good in mature roles (including romantic) and hope she is willing to continue.  She has a good comic touch, has a wide range of emotions and yes can be sophisticated.

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Aunt Ruth

Two years ago my Uncle Cam died making a lot of us sad, but it also brought a lot of us together to remember.  This year his wife, my Aunt Ruth died.  I am just realizing a small measure of our loss.

Aunt Ruth was my mother's older sister by over 5 years.  She was a good sister.  My mother, Dorothy Davidson married first and had Ruth as her maid of honor.  A few years later when Ruth married I learned this past weekend that my mother was pregnant at the time (with me), but was the maid of honor.  When my mother was dying my Aunt left a vacation to be with my mother and was the only family member at her bedside when my mother actually died.
Growing up I didn't see my aunt very much as she married Cameron Stewart and his job took him wherever Ontario Hydro required him including Fraserdale up by James Bay, inaccessible by car.   Then several decades ago they moved to Cornwall which was still at least a four hour drive from where I lived.  My aunt, uncle and cousins could often be seen during Christmas and school breaks.

I have visited my aunt in Cornwall only a few times.  Once with my father and sister Pat when my dad bought a car that was picked up in Montreal when I was fairly young.  I recall a terrible smell that troubled my young nose, but disappeared on subsequent visits.  Once after visiting soon to be relatives in Watertown, New York I thought it would be a good time to introduce my new girl friend (now my wife) to my aunt and uncle.  I recall taking my cousin, Donna to Toronto on my way back home.  I attended Ruth and Cam's 40th wedding anniversary with my wife and two kids.  On another trip I remember visiting their sailboat dock in Long Sault, meeting some of their sailing friends around a camp fire.

I came to appreciate a family tradition I hadn't thought of.  Maybe it is more of a Coakwell or Stewart tradition.  My Aunt Ruth did a lot of sewing all through her life, creating and altering clothes.  Her husband Cam was involved in sewing.  All 3 daughters sew.  One interesting story was that once while living in Oshawa Ruth decided she wanted a dress for an evening event and went to Toronto to buy some fabric, brought it home and sewed a new dress that she wore the same evening.  My mother also was a sewer at a lesser scale so I suspect my Grandmother Coakwell had something to do with it.

Brenda told us that when she was very little her mother read the Book of Knowledge to her.  Reminded me that I got an early start with my mother also reading to me and like Brenda it opened up a whole new world.

My mother told me her sister Ruth was smart and I learned she had been at the top of her class in high school, but was advised to be a secretary.  She worked in General Motors for nine years and was forced to leave when she got married.  My aunt worked at the Board of Education in Cornwall for 18 years as a secretary.  She was commended for her skills and willingness to get things done.  She encouraged her daughters to get an education and be ambitious.  They all graduated from university and got jobs where they got challenging things done and were respected for it.

Both Ruth and Cam loved traveling and recall many talks about wintering in Spain. As Cam had served in the Canadian army during World War II they both visited Italy where part of my wife's family originated.  They also did a lot of camping at Bon Echo and Charleston Lake.

The main reason my aunt was the only family with my mother when she died was that myself, my father, my brother and my Uncle Cam amongst a few others were discussing how to keep the family together without my mother who was an anchor.  My Uncle Cam had a good suggestion that we get together at least once a year with a picnic.  In the end we attempted to adopt this and ironically one of the anchors for this was my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Cam from Cornwall to Oshawa.  We weren't aware that they celebrated their anniversary on the day we chose.  They never diverted attention from what we were trying to do.

They attended all our weddings and funerals which must have been inconvenient.  Keeping connected  can be difficult, but I think is worth the effort.

At funerals you meet relatives from far away.  I met my sister from Montreal, another sister from Cambridge and her husband and my brother from Brooklin.  I felt a little guilty, but it seemed natural to congregate at one table that was mostly Davidsons.  I met my cousins, their spouses, and children including some I had previously not really talked to very much.  Cornwall was a long drive for many of us and thinking I was a champion long distance driver turned out to be false as others had come from Sarnia, Brantford and Fort Erie. I had an interesting conversation with a friend of Donna, Louise who had worked with her for many years and now lives in Burlington.

One thing I owe my Aunt Ruth (and Uncle Cam) is they raised three wonderful daughters, my cousins, Brenda, Donna and Linda who have each formed their own families.  I am pleased and honoured in the official program to have been given the opportunity to speak at the service.  I learned a few things including about my mother that are precious to me.  I also saw a wonderful family giving love to a lot of people.

To read about my Uncle Cam click here:

To read about my mother, my Aunt Ruth's sister click here:

If you have any anecdotes about my Aunt Ruth, please feel free to share them with me.

Photos:  Top is of my Aunt Ruth.
At the Woodlawn Cemetery  in Cornwall where my Aunt was put to rest beside her husband.  Son in law Peter Cotton played the bagpipes.
Derek and Linda.
Brenda and Rebecca.
Donna and Louise looking at family photos.
Andrew, Deneen, Jill and Robert