Sunday, November 29, 2015


This documentary film presented an interesting topic: why more women are rejecting the idea of becoming mothers.  Terra Renton took on this as a personal quest to do with her own life.  At age 32 she had put off the choice and now was wondering if she really wanted to stick to her resolution.  She had been involved with a tv show "Mantracker" and has some expertise and resources to really delve into it.

Before too long the choice boils down to the pros and cons.  The cons seem pretty frightful.  Your life is taken over.  Spouses and close friends tend to be neglected.  Careers are curtailed.  Lifestyles are altered.  On the other side is some parental and society pressure and buried in there are that you live for someone outside your self which is supposed to be fulfilling.

Along the way we uncover some trends.  I have observed and participated to some extent in these trends.  Fathers are now getting more involved in parenting, but are still dealing with their masculinity being questioned.  Previously fathers had been expected to be the bread winners and kept separate from raising children, except perhaps for discipline.

For myself I had accepted some of my father's habits and when my daughter was born, I didn't change diapers except in an emergency.  I did very little housework.  I did work long hours for a number of years in circulation departments of morning newspapers.  I developed habits of getting up early, around 5 or even earlier and often had to work late.  Later in life I ended up being a traveling salesman often leaving early and returning late and sometimes going away for a week at a time.

In the meantime I had a son born and things had started to change.  It had been pointed out to me that my brother-in-law, ten years younger and now my boss changed diapers and I found myself doing that a lot more.  I also did a little more housework.   I found myself not only getting involved with my children's extra curricular activities (dance, swimming, soccer, water polo), but also got involved in reading bedtime stories and even taught both of them to read.  Read about my volunteering  Here read about my proudest achievement teaching my kids to read.

In the film young women are portrayed as wanting to avoid all the encumbrances of child rearing.  It seems that consumerism impacted their choices.  Having a child would interfere with lots of things--vacations, entertainment and material goods.  All that is true.  Everything has a cost.  I didn't really think of parenthood before marriage and even in the early days after marriage it wasn't something I looked forward to.  But now I feel life was very selfish before and now is more meaningful and fulfilling.

My parents married young and I had been told they tried to have a baby right away, but I made them wait over a year.  Then they relaxed and my sister was born only a year and a half later.  Altogether they had six children with my youngest sister born 18 years apart from me.  I was told she was not an accident.  Still I had no wish to duplicate my parents feat.

There are a number of different angles  One point is that the role of men is changing and needs to be supported.  The United States is the only industrial nation not to have paid parental leave and thus conscious decisions are more difficult.  Parents have become over protective

One interesting example was given by Lenore Skenzy who was a reporter with a nine year old son who felt over protected.  He wanted to take a subway in New York to his home in Queens by himself.  Lenore and her husband were a little fearful, but finally they decided to give him the opportunity.  As she realized fear is overblown--violence is actually down unless you watch too much tv.  I remember being  a little fearful that my son (probably about nine) was sometimes the last one out of the house for a family trip and resented that we didn't trust him to lock the door.  Eventually I found that my son was worthy of trust.

It is universal that birth rates are declining.  At least two factors are important.  One is urbanization and the other (pointed out in the film) is secularization.  Fundamentalists whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim tend to have more children.  For us secularists it is frightening to think the world will be taken over by fundamentalists.  Consumerism is another foe for increasing the birth rate.

The family itself is losing its strength.  Many of us grew up with brothers and sisters and even more likely with cousins and aunts and uncles all of whom influenced us.  Without the one child China policy more of our Western cultures are producing fewer brothers and sisters and therefore fewer cousins and aunt and uncles.

The goal of everyone is to find the right balance.  Now that women have a choice it is not hard to understand why many prefer not to have the burden of motherhood, especially at a young age.  Society to survive has to have replacements, but unwanted babies end up causing problems.  For the individual they need to really think about this most important decision.  How this is accomplished should be a much higher priority

Terra is extraordinarily honest.  Conscious of the ticking clock she decided to examine the issue from all sides.  She talked to a wide variety of experts from Canada, the United States, Europe and Australia.  Music was provided by Dorothea Tachler

There is a Facebook page you can keep up to date with:

Friday, November 27, 2015

Horses in the Winter

Are horses only good in good weather?   Can you enjoy your horse in bad weather?  Here in Canada snow sometimes starts in November and sometimes lasts until April--maybe one benefit of global warming is an extended riding season.  Are your horses ready for winter?  Check the link for some guidelines.

A popular image is riding along a beach splashing in the water.  Perhaps another attractive image is dashing throughout the snow with the white stuff spraying.

For me an attractive action piece was the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics with cowboys charging through the snow.  The 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics included a display of Norwegian horses in their opening ceremonies.

Shoeing opens a lot of debate which I am not qualified to participate in.  A few points to consider (debate).  Many barefoot horses are well adapted for traction.  However many conditions work against the barefoot solution.  In addition to traction, another concern is snowballing and also protection from the elements.  Talk to a trusted expert.

Skijoring is where a horse pulls a skier similar to water skiing.  It was a demonstration sport at the 1928 St Moritz Winter Olympics, but unfortunately did not progress to being a medal event.  Since 2009 Whitefish, Montana had held what they call a world championship for skijoring and have  offered prize money.  Check the link for an informative video:    

In my research I stumbled on a story by a Fjord owner, Pat Wolfe who has enjoyed sleigh riding on ice for a few decades.  Check out his advice

I had heard about the idea of Icelandic horses competing on ice and located a video from Europe that will give you a better idea than mere words.

Having seen these exciting opportunities, perhaps you would consider a regular ride in the snow.  It can be enjoyable, but avoid ice to minimize risks.

Groundwork can be valuable to keep your horse fit and develop your relationship.  A lot of us become armchair quarterbacks in the winter, but it still is opportunity to progress.

Climate change is real and is noticed by many horse owners as well as skiiers.  You cannot count on snow in traditional areas and may find yourself traveling further.  Hopefully more horse owners and riders can enjoy a longer season no matter the weather.

Photo by Jane Wolfe

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Syrian Refugee

What can I say that others haven't already said?

Most of my life there has been conflict around the world with many people fleeing and seeking refuge.  Lately Syria has generated the most wanting to flee.  Most have gone to nearby Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan, but increasingly expanding to Europe and North America.  Refugees have always fanned the flames of fear, but now we are talking Muslims and that seems to up the ante quite a bit.

Simply I believe we are obligated.  Furthermore we are beneficiaries.

We are very complicit in the problem.  We tend to disassociate ourselves from our history when it is uncomfortable.  The Mideast, at one time was the basket of civilization, however it has been surpassed by Europe and the so-called West.  We discovered oil there that was critical for our life style to continue.  We got involved in wars and regime changes and afterwards had the power to draw boundaries for our convenience.  We decided to keep the price of oil (and gas at the pump) reasonable so would support dictators who were only too happy to suppress their citizens.

We gradually learned of climate change, but mostly dismissed it in favor of continuing our comfortable system.  One of the effects is to increase droughts.  Droughts in turn force demographic changes--rural residents move to urban areas--prices go up--jobs go down and more stress creating violence.  The result is a lot of people fleeing for their lives and to re-start their history.

It suits some people to fan fear.  If one is running for political office (and sees foreigners as expendable) it could be helpful to portray the hated party in power as endangering your welfare.  As the refugees are painted as terrorists, politicians try to out-do one another with their condemnation.   Republicans are transparent in this political strategy, but they are not alone.  Fortunately there are a few sane people with influence.

There certainly is danger, but it occurs no matter what choices are made.  We can mitigate the dangers if we choose not to panic.  Sitting in North America we don't have the danger of poor Syrian (and Iraqi, etc) refugees crossing our borders overnight.  Other nations (which we consider allies) have been taking the burden of dealing with unasked for refugees.  We have the opportunity to sort through them and pick who we want.  We will also be relieving a stressful situation for our allies.  Time is a factor in that while we try to get things perfect at our end, others are suffering.  Also consider this flood of Syrians as a brain drain.

Danger is always relative.  There is always the danger that an airplane will drop out of the sky on top of you.  We don't get paralyzed by that.  In the U.S. they don't get upset about the number of gun related homicides and suicides (at least not enough to legislate against it).  So far all statistics on the matter show that refugees are not a big risk for terrorism, although other types of foreign visitors do represent a higher risk.

There is a very delicate problem involving many factions warring against different enemies needing to be sorted out.  A recruiting device of ISIS and other terrorist organizations is that we hate Muslims.  Many of us have fallen into that trap and don't see it.  Those who have become vocal in their fear and hatred send a signal.  Muslims are not a lot different from the rest of us.

In 1956, after the Hungarian Revolution I was old enough to understand a bit and see some of the effects.  There was no concern of Communist sympathizers infiltrating our society.  I went to elementary school with some refugees and over the years have encountered other Hungarians who came over as refugees or their children.  I remember talking to one who helped develop Canadian basketball.  I worked with another and laughed at his jokes.  It turns out a cousin of my wife married a fellow who came over as an infant with his parents concerned his crying and coughing would alert authorities.  These are just a few examples that affected me personally and many Canadians of my age could think of more.

After Vietnam fell to the enemy Canada opened up its doors to Asian refugees.  The first time I heard the term "boat people" referring to refugees.  I have had a few as neighbors, as vendors at the Hamilton Farmer's Market and have enjoyed going to their restaurants.  I have heard of a friend of friends who literally lost a brother fleeing by boat.  Recently as a deputy returning officer during the Federal election I was struck at the enthusiasm of Vietnamese to vote.

I have earlier recounted an experience with a Syrian (not sure if he was a refugee) who fixed a problem with my car tire that had eluded my normal resources.

The point is foreigners add to our lives.  It is easy enough to find stories that reflect the desperation and the danger, but we also learn about refugees that are showing gratitude.  One Syrian refugee  was recently reported providing food to the homeless in Berlin, Germany.

Justin Trudeau recently said "our strength is diversity."  While others may cower in fear we can shake hands and converse with many different perspectives.  Before too long we will be adapting to and enjoying new ideas.  If we choose to close our doors or segregate newcomers we are losers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Multi lingual actors add more sizzle to cinema

Following my blog on "why I love foreign movies" I left out one detail.  PEOPLE.  There are a lot of actors who have added enjoyment to a vast international audience.  They include those who are able to articulate in more than one language so that their talent can be appreciated by larger numbers of film lovers.  English speaking films and other national film cultures have benefited from inclusion of multi lingual actors.

Why would they be wanted?   They might fit the part (of an immigrant or exotic foreigner) or they can draw a crowd in their native land or among a diaspora.  Talent is randomly distributed around the world, and is universally appreciated.  Some of them frankly are pretty sexy without any linguistic considerations..

Why would they choose to speak roles in different languages?  Money seems an obvious answer, but artistic opportunity is also important. Cinema is very international and directors, actors, producers and other film people are meeting each other and often come to admire each other's work.

From French cinema you can find Audrey Tautou("The Da Vinci Code""Dirty Pretty Things"), Marion Cotillard ("The Dark Knight Rises," Inception"),  Juliet Binoche ("Chocolat" The English Patient"), Mathieu Alaric  ("The Grand Budapest", "Qantum of Solace") Vincent Cassel ("Black Swan" "Trance") to spice up the English speaking world.

From Mexico we have Gael Garcia Bernal   who has appeared in "Mozart in the Jungle," "Letters to Juliet" " Recently watched him in "Rosewater,"  about a Canadian journalist directed by Jon Stewart set in Iran.  A close friend, of Gael's  Diego Luna  was in "Milk" and "The Terminal."

Edgar Ramirez from Venezuela  had a military father with international placings that encouraged him to learn English, French and Spanish.  Known in English cinema for "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Bourne Ultimatum" In "The Liberator" he played Simon Bolivar and spoke in significant sections of the movie, Spanish, French and English.

From Spain Javier Bardem has been a gift in such movies as "Skyfall" "Eat, Pray, Love" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"  Now, his wife Penelope Cruz  has been in"Vanillia Sky" duplicating role from "Open Your Eyes."    Eduardo Noriega appeared in" Transsiberian" and "Vantage Point."  Also speaks French and appeared in "Beauty and the Beast."  Paz Vega has appeared in many Spanish movies and television episodes and also in Italian films before making mostly American movies such as "Spanglish" and "Triage."

From Denmark Ulrich Thomsen speaks fluent German and English.  He has appeared in at least two Hungarian movies including one I saw ,"The Notebook" playing a German.  He has appeared in German movies.  Worked in the American tv series, "Banshee."  Not yet released he will be directing, writing and acting in "In Embryo."  Mads Mikklesen is another leading man from Denmark and has appeared in two French films I have seen, "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky" and "The Legend of Michael Kohilhaas."  In the U.S. he has played the main character in the tv series, "Hannibal" and recently in the movie "The Salvation."

Bollywood actors making inroads in Britain and the States include Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in such movies as "Pink Panther 2" and  "Provoked." Anil Kapoor  has made a reputation in "Mission Impossible" and "24)," Irrfan Khan has played in "The Amazing Spiderman"  and " Jurassic World."  Priyanka Chopra has made a breakthrough in "Quantico."   Om Puri a very prolific actor has been on English movies such as "East is East,"  "West is West" and "The Hundred Foot Journey."  India has a unique problem with Hindi as one of the most popular language in the world, but there are several other major languages and dubbing and sub titles are popular in different regions, but so is English.  Some of their movies are even mostly English, whereas in others it is sometimes used to indicate upper class and others just to cut across barriers.  There are movies based on many different languages and many actors have found it useful to speak several Indian languages.

Rutger Hauer, another prolific actor who started in his native Dutch movies.  I remember him in "Bride Flight" a Dutch-English movie set in New Zealand.  He played Michaelanglo in an Italian production.  In English he has played a number of vampire roles but also "The Mill and the Cross."

Max Von Sydow starting from Sweden played in a number of European films such as "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and in many American and British movies.  Stellan Sarsgard, has been in a number of Amerian movies such as "Mama Mia"s with his son Alexander carrying on in a number of American films   Sweden provided us with  Ingrid Bergman.  More modern  Noomi Rapace, famous as "the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo" has performed in "Child 44 ""and The Drop"

Branko Djuric played in Bosnian and other Balkan languages- and learned English for "Triage."

French Canadian in English films include Roy Dupuis, and Genevieve Bujold.  It is fairly natural for Quebekers to be bilingual.

Lots of other multi lingual actors have been left out.  Who are your favourites?  If you enjoy their English speaking roles you can better appreciate them in their native tongues.

If you haven't read the earlier post on foreign movies here it is:

for more information on Javier Bardem:

for more information on Mads Miklesen:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Costa-Gavras and his political movies

Born Konstantinos Gavras (shortened to Costa-Gavras) in Greece during 1933 and living there throughout WW II.   As his father was a member of the Communist Party he couldn't get admission to a Greek university, so he went to France to first study law, then switched to film.

Most of his films are in French, but he made a few English ones ; also made comedies and crime stories, but Costa-Gavras is noted for making political movies.  When I say political I really mean how power is exercised and his political movies refer to abuse of power.  Many of these movies portray a background of non interest or acceptance amongst the public.  Abusers attain power and maintain it with deception and violence.  Some political movies are about political campaigns.  Costa-Gavras directed and and wrote scripts for  most of the described movies.  He also produced a number of movies.

"Z" released in 1969 was his first and set in Greece.   A line from this movie  during screen credits seems appropriate for many of the others- "Any resemblance to actual events, to persons living or dead,  is not the result of chance.  It is deliberate."  The plot concerns an assassination of opposition leader by secret police and covered up until a prosecutor bravely dug a little deeper. Yves Montand was the leading character with important roles played by Irene Pappas and Jean-Louis Trintignant.  Filmed in Algeria as they were able to find locations similar to Greece.  Shortly after the events of this film Greece was governed by the military. Won the Oscar for best foreign film and also the jury prize at Cannes.  Music by Miklos Theodorakis who apparently was in exile at the time and had the orchestration done by another musician.

"The Confession" (1970) was set in Czecholslovia.  It depicted mock Communist trials  that were about political infighting.  Yves Montand and Simone Signoret were principal players.

"State of Siege" was released in 1972, this time with Yves Montand- playing the bad guy, an American torture expert who was kidnapped.  It was set in Uruguay and depicted some urban guerrillas fighting a corrupt military establishment.  Ironically it was filmed in Chile that underwent a major coup shortly afterwards.  Music was again by Miklis Theodorkis.

With two intervening films (that look interesting but not seen) "Missing" was released in 1982 with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek in English.  Filmed in Mexico, but set during the Chilean coup.  Jack Lemmon plays a  middle class American business man who at first is embarrassed by his son's journalistic job but then gradually realizes his government is complicit in the coup. Music by Vangelis that I bought from iTunes.  Won an Oscar for script writing from another source and also won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

"Music Box" was released in 1989 with an English cast headed by Jessica Lange.  Filmed in Chicago and Hungary it was concerned about Holocaust perpetrators with layers of deception involving different governments with some trying to uncover the truth and others trying to smear reputations.

The latest one I watched  was "Capital" which came out in 2012.  It was filmed in London, Paris, Miami and New York, all locations as part of the story.  Its focus was dirty business manoeuvres which were hard to keep track of.  Gad Elmaleh, better known for comedies played the lead role.  I enjoyed him in "The Valet" and "Precious" and was surprised to learn he was born and raised in Morocco and spent several years in Montreal studying political science.

Costa-Gavras liked dramatizing political abuses.  There are documentaries about similar events, but he felt a fictional movie would have more impact if it could be made entertaining.  He was one of the masters and possibly not finished yet.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris has got the world's attention

Last Friday seemingly out of the blue terrorism struck in Paris,and got worldwide attention.  Terrorism is the weapon of discontented, perhaps deranged groups who feel their concerns are being ignored.  They hope to create fear and distrust.

The question is sometimes asked "why do they hate us?"  There are rational reasons overlooked by too many, but perhaps more importantly there is an emotional underlaying.  Emotional responses can make a bad situation worse. Reflex action helped bring on this situation.

As a teenager I remember feeling a bit rebellious.  Once I hit puberty and started feeling my oats there seemed to be a lot of people restraining what I felt were my rights.  At university I remember reading "The Student as Nigger" which really painted a world of unreasonable discrimination and a conspiracy of big money.  I was by no means a radical, but aware  and sympathetic of a worldview of thinking quite opposed to the establishment.  At the University of Guelph many students became riled up because our chancellor, a former provincial premier had done something supporting corporate interests (can't remember what horrible thing it might have been) and we should get him expelled.  It didn't go far and a year or so later I gladly accepted him giving me my graduation degree.  I didn't get a job right away and in fact had a difficult time getting settled, but eventually fit into the establishment and am reasonably happy about it.  Fairly normal process for my generation.

Around the world to-day there is a great deal of youth unemployment.  Many are aware of how unfair the world can be and look for explanations.  In the Mid-East there have always been a few ready to offer explanations.  Now they have a bigger audience and now in many cases they have modern tools.   Rebellion among young people is normal and when combined with unemployment, alienation is inevitable.  You can see it in all corners of the world, some results might even be considered productive.

The invasion of Iraq is often cited as the beginning of our current problems, but I think it goes back further, perhaps a lot further.  At one time the Mid-East was one of the key centres of civilization including Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt.  Arabs actually played a key role in the European Renaissance. A lot of things combined to shift modernization to Europe and I suppose many felt cheated.  Europeans became colonial powers, sometimes in very authoritarian ways and other times as commercial powers.

Skipping a lot of history when we come to the First World War we can see some major shifts.  Both the Arabs and the Jews were promised more political freedom.  The Brits and the French, amongst others divided up the world and drew lines that suited them.  The Ottoman Empire fell apart and ended up as only Turkey.  Many different religious sects and ethnic groups found themselves stuck in unnatural groupings.  Also at this time oil became critical to keep Western commerce fuelled and soon Mid-Eastern countries became critical oil suppliers.

As a management tool Westerners accepted dictators to work with.  The masses of the Mid-East and elsewhere were basically kept ignorant with a well defined elite minority in control.

There were many basic factions.  In the Muslim world there were two main groups--Sunni and Shiite with their own divides.  The Kurds were spread over several nations including Turkey, Iraq and Syria.  They had their own aspirations and their own factions.  They are one of the awkward entities with some being very aggressive towards independence and others trying to work within the system.  Americans have noted that from their point of view the Kurds are fighting on our side, except some have antagonized Turkey as well as Iraq and that is interfering with overall co-operations.

Iran, although a Muslim country (mainly Shiite) is not Arab.  We overlook that a CIA coup replaced an elected head of state with a dictator.  The CIA  helped set up a secret police system.  We supported Iraq when they tried to take advantage of the Iranian Revolution.  Americans shot down a Iranian commercial jet.  Iran was called part of the Axis of Evil.  A great deal of mistrust although not every one hates everyone else.  Our culture might have been different if the Persians had defeated the Greeks.  As a Pope helped bring down the Soviet Empire, Ayatollah Khomeni helped displace a dictator.  Religion is not only powerful, but can used in a political, even military manner and Muslims were not the first to discover this possibility.

Since 1948 Israel has carved a spot for itself, but to a great extent displaced Arab Muslims.  Christians (at least some factions) complicate things by interpreting the Bible in such a way that they see Israel as the site of the Second Coming and that it is necessary for Jews to be in control.  This may seem very trivial, but in fact it plays an important role in American politics. Supported by American money Israel has expanded further and feels they need to protect themselves from their neighbours and those in the occupied territories.  Many Arabs and Muslims see a big conspiracy to keep them away from what is rightfully theirs.  Some people feel Israel has tried to use the Americans to fight their wars.

The Russians have stepped in to protect their interests.  They feel comfortable with dictators and also fear Islamist extremists.  They are said to want a warm weather port.  Assad rules with the backing of a minority group, the Alawites and initiated  the current crisis by refusing to compromise.  He even used chemical weapons and created a crisis that was resolved only when the Russians pressured him to dispose of the chemicals.  The Russians have taken not only to attacking ISIS, but more with other anti-Assad groups, some of whom are considered American allies.  They have also co-ordinated with the Iranians.

One other factor has been climate change.  Westerners do not seem conscious that drought has been a big problem in both north Africa and Syria that have caused the price of food to go up and rural jobs in particular to diminish.  One of the outcomes has been increased urbanization with dissatisfied youth.  The Arab spring had its origins in these dynamics.  It doesn't take a lot of people to cause a lot of trouble. In Libya, Egypt Yemen and Syria the Arab Spring didn't work out quite the way we visualized and in Tunisia there have been a lot of difficulties that so far have been overcome.

Not sure all the different voices have been captured in my brief narrative, but when you stir everything together you are bound to come up with a lot of anger.  The invasion of Iraq was done from ignorance.  Iraq had precious little to do with 9/11 and in fact they feared Al Queda more than we did.  We didn't allow for their own fear of letting their neighbours know they didn't really have weapons of mass destruction.  We didn't understand that Saddam Hussein the dictator controlled a variety of ethnic groups that didn't always like each other and although brutal, modernized his country more than others in the same area.  Once the decision was made it was made sloppily.  All members of the Baath party were locked out of good jobs.  We didn't send enough troops to control different groups from fighting each other.

Even while Paris has caught the spotlight  we didn't pay as much attention when a terrorists  hit Lebanon just  a few days before.  Not proved yet, but ISIL is claiming they bombed a Russian jet plane over the Sinai Peninsula.

What to do now?  Bear in mind the terrorists want us to be afraid and can predict there would be some repercussions.  They might have hoped that Russia and France at least would step back from attacking them, but that seems unrealistic.  A big concern right now is refugees and they have become a very big political issue in both Europe and North America.  It is true there is a real risk that at least a small part of the millions of refugees are already radicalized and that some more might become so.

But there is also a risk if they are not accepted.  They too are driven by fear and have left their homes and run for their lives.  Where will they go?  Who will they blame for their dilemma?  For some countries they represent a solution to a demographic problem (they don't have enough young people to take care of them when they get old).  Give them a chance and they can contribute, but otherwise they will become like barbarians at the gates.  Let us not forget we are all complicit in their situation in a myriad of ways.  Let us all realize there will be many more refugees in the future.

I noted in another blog how a Syrian immigrant fixed my auto tires better than an established mechanic.

Should we pool our resources more effectively to fight ISIS?  The hangup seems to be that many of those in the area are reluctant to get involved or alliances are tangled up with pro Assad and anti Assad, pro and anti Kurds.  The Russians complicate the situation.  Sorting out the alliances seems critical and is heartening to read some steps are being taken.  The Canadians under Justin Trudeau were about to withdraw from air attacks to transfer our efforts to emphasizing military training and diplomacy.  The decision has been made more difficult and he could not be faulted for beefing up our military efforts, but hopefully in a purposeful way.

The Palestinian situation is an excuse for some, but solving it would take a lot of steam from many of the  extremists and their sympathizers.  Again fear plays a role, but also so does bitterness.  The United States as a prime supporter needs to look long term what is in their mutual best interest--a workable two state solution.  I hope that Canada will play a more balanced approach than the previous one of backing every outrageous settlement expansion.

The Kurds until recently have been overlooked or seen as an unavoidable nuisance best to ignore.  It is a very knotty problem involving several countries.  Many just think they should be given independence, but that is easier said than done.  I prefer we don't increase the number of nations, but rather consolidate what we have.  We all seem to have a tribal loyalty and although we are inter mingling more than ever that loyalty is still fairly intense for many.  Turkey, Iraq and Syria have national interests tied in with the Kurds.  Canada may not be the perfect example, but we have made accommodations between English and French that not everyone likes, but have kept us both working together.

It is easy to sort through other people's choices and decide what makes the most sense, but emotions play a a very big role.  Forgiveness may seem trite, but the idea benefits both parties.  South Africa set an example that perhaps can be improved upon.

An irony I learned from Facebook (thanks Samia) is that the terrorists were stopped from placing a bomb inside a football stadium where the French president was in attendance and although the bomb ended up exploding outside the stadium it is likely thousands were saved.  The guard who stopped the terrorist from going inside the stadium was a Muslim.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

When the public (that means you) are lied to. What can you do?

My concern for this post is with large organizations that have discovered something dangerous about their business and chose to hide it.  Three examples that prompted this are the Tobacco industry, the Oil business and the National Football League.  They have all crossed my path and that of virtually all North Americans.  Part of me is self-righteous, part is practical and part is hypocritical.  Many, if not all can identify with being pushed and pulled by tobacco, oil and sports.

Sir Walter Raleigh brought tobacco to Europe and it must have seemed very weird to Englishmen at first.  Perhaps addiction wasn't really noticed, but somehow smoking came to be prestigious and pleasurable.  It was mostly restricted to men, at first and relatively wealthy ones as the product would be in short supply until demand rose.  A few centuries later and it had become universal with both sexes indulging.  Along the way there must have been suspicions that it was unhealthy, but nothing definitely had been established until late in the twentieth century.

We now know that among the first proofs of the harmful effects of tobacco came from within the industry itself only they chose not to disclose.  Some of its early defenders did so because they saw attacks on tobacco as attacks on free enterprise.

I have written about tobacco in a post about movies I do not understand how I escaped the lure as my father smoked cigars and many of my friends smoked when I was a teenager.  Many of them have since quit and I would say the majority of my acquaintances do not smoke.  Although my mother didn't smoke she died of emphysema, perhaps due to second hand smoke.  The hardest thing to understand is that teenagers (that most vulnerable age of humans) are attracted to it, often as rebels, not realizing they are being used by big money tobacco.

I try not to be self-righteous about my abstinence, as I like and admire many people who do smoke. And I have other bad habits and addictions.

Global warming and climate change have been talked of for at least two decades that I remember, but not taken too seriously until more recently and maybe not seriously enough.  Exxon has made the news having done research that proves climate change is real going back to the 1970's and not only hid the information, but spent large amounts of money detracting from the problem.

My involvement in environmental concerns is a little more spotty.  Recycling and cutting waste were habits I cultivated, but in some substantial issues I found myself trying to be practical. With my limited funds I was always looking for investments that would lead to wealth or at least financial independence.

My experience with Suncor didn't start out to support the Tar Sands.  One of the outlets for Orange aPEEL (more down below) was Ontario Co-ops who had an arrangement with Sunoco to blend in ethanol to gasoline served at many of their locations.  At the time they were one of the few gas station chains using the term and my curiosity got the better of me.  Ethanol was supposed to give improved engine efficiency and was natural being derived from corn.  Seemed like a good thing to invest in and I wrote away for an annual report from Sunoco.  I spent a lot of time looking for any mention of ethanol and finally found it, but it was pretty miniscule.  Still I thought I was very clever and bought about 100 shares in my self-directed pension fund.

Ethanol became more common, but more importantly Sunoco turned out to be the most successful investment I ever made.  The dividends at first were small, but I  bought a few more shares, then noticed it seemed to split every few years.  A few times thinking I was ahead of the game I took the profits after a split to diversify into a few other stocks, some of which did ok, but none performed as well as Suncor.  I became more conscious of the Tar Sands, but still saw ethanol as my motivating driver.  Oil from the Tar Sands was much more expensive to extract, but Suncor and others invested large amounts of money for what was seen as the inevitable rise in prices.  Lots of political turmoil had made both Canada and the United States dependent on foreign countries and in fact our purchase of gas seemed to be financing lots of Mid-East jihadists.

At one point I actually looked for an environmentally friendly energy company and thought I had found it--hydro electric power and some renewables.  It never made much money, but seemed promising.  Then it was taken over by Trans Canada Pipeline that I had been persuaded to buy 100 shares.  I took this as a sign that Trans Canada Pipeline wanted to be part of the new energy, but I now think they just wanted to stifle a potential rival.

In the last decade or so the dividends from both companies became significant and while interest rates declined my income and capital gains from Suncor and Trans Canada Pipeline were more critical to retirement plans. Another thing I noticed on a few day trips to the States and a major trip to New Zealand was that the Canadian currency had more power than earlier.  The Canadian dollar seemed to track the price of oil.

I would like to think I am both smart and ethical.  The smart part of me thought although fossil fuels were bad, nothing I did would change their power, so I might as well keep the two stocks.  I had some advice that reinforced that thinking.  A decade or so ago, spurred by my son Michael I started voting for the Green Party and in general more concerned and informed about Climate Change, but still clung to my two stocks.  Eventually my conscience troubled me more and I began to believe that renewables would eventually conquer the fossil fuels and that soon there would be a big adjustment.  I sold both stocks, though I confess I timed them until just after the date of record for dividends.  In total my Suncor investment increased by about 20 fold.  Looking back over a year my sell decision seems to have been both smart and ethical.  There are sure to be some harsh adjustments.  I used to drive more than the average person because of my jobs ( and personal interest--that has already been curbed.  The Canadian currency has become weaker and that will also affect my travels and probably even local purchases. Hopefully the air will be nicer and perhaps the climate more controllable, but both are long term projects.

We have always been aware that football is a brutal sport, in fact that is one of its attractions.  Many years ago it was pointed out to me that another big reason for the popularity of the NFL was gambling, and that NFL really stood for National Football Lottery.  I saw it as a strength, speed and skill game and the toughest of the major sports. In the past few years there has been an increase in knowledge about concussions.  The owners have been very resistant to publicizing the information or doing much about it.  There is still concern that the lustre might be taken from football.

High school, the CFL, university (Canadian and American) and the NFL consumed several hours each week during the season and I was a true fanatic.  I did not play organized hockey or football, but followed them almost religiously and had been very active in neighbourhood sports until my twenties.  Then a friend, Michael Bromilow involved with education told me he couldn't support any sport that deliberately set out to injure players on the opposing side.  It wasn't hard to see the truth of that and my interest, particularly in football petered out quickly.  Now we realize the NFL has known for a long time that concussions are a threat to the health of their players.  My favorite sport was basketball and I was coming to appreciate soccer, especially after my son got involved.  All sports have tension and drama, but I came to appreciate skill, team play. and discipline.  A book on basketball had the title, "The Name of the Game is Deception. " I still get pumped up for an athletic display of skill and the tension between well matched teams or individuals.

Near the end of the Roman Empire entertainment for the masses involved violence and  actual killing on a scale we haven't yet reached.  Football and other sports can still be enjoyable, but for some without the violence it is a bit of a letdown.

Orange aPEEL, a cleaner was the one thing I sold that most made me feel I had a purpose in life, more than just to make money.  But I was naive in many ways.  Some huge companies were well aware of the ingredient d'limonene and all its many benefits, but they preferred to sell it in pre-mixes to keep the costs down and increase its shelf life.  My original boss really got caught up in the product as a concentrate and so did I.  I came to realize that almost any concentrate is both more environmentally friendly and economical than a pre-mix.  The problem is modern consumers much prefer the convenience of a pre-mix and the illusion that it is cheaper.  Marketing understands and exploits this and I thought I was knowledgeable about marketing.  Those with the resources can get their message out more effectively.

I also learned some unfortunate aspects of my product.  In some cases it was allergies and it could be either animals or people that suffered.  I learned for some tasks it was too strong and for others not strong enough.  I felt my future lay in repeat and referrals so I was as honest as practical.

I was forced out of that product, but still recommend it.  A few understand it, but most just buy whatever is most convenient and that they have confidence in.  Some of their success was with pre-mixes.  I have written about an eye glass cleaner and there was a shampoo, both of which are terrific, but under appreciated.  Some more on Orange aPEEL:

I have written about how there is a lot of resentment of regulations.
What I learned from my experience is that regulations often favor big companies over small companies as they have the money to meet standards where often small companies suffer.  There might also be some concern that some big companies can skirt around regulations.

What does one puny person do against corporate conglomerates?  Some may have the power to change things, but most of us have limited resources.  But we all have some power and using it wisely can make a difference.  Examine everything.  Look for alternatives.  Set an example.  Encourage your acquaintances when prudent.  Vote carefully.  Help put things in motion so they can develop some momentum.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


I first noticed "Drishyam" through IMDB ratings a few months ago starting at about 9.0, but not too many followers.  Then it dropped to 8.9 and it seemed would follow a pattern of when the masses see something it usually goes downhill.  Followed practically every day with raters going up a few hundred everyday, but the rate maintained.  Below I will confess the reason for my obsession.

I didn't see the original version in Malayalam but feel secure declaring it a masterpiece. The author, Jeethu Joseph also directed.  It is often the case in India that they can just dub the original, however when something is especially good, Bollywood likes to remake it in Hindi.  I don't recall ever seeing a Malalayam film, but have seen many other languages--Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil and Telegu.  There are over 38 million  Malayalam speakers mostly in India.

Ajay Devgn is the key cast member.  Although I have seen him in a number of movies that I liked he is known principally for action movies where someone is hit hard enough to do two flips and crash through a wall.  But "Raincoat," and  "Rajineeti" were both my preferred types.  He is married to Kajol, one half of my favouite jodi and they have two kids.  Ajay fitted this effort between two movies with his own production film delayed for three months.   He was assured this production could be filmed in less than 12 weeks.  There is no evidence of it being rushed, but instead with lots of subtleties.

Shriya Saran played his wife and she is the reason I followed this movie so closely.   Saw her in "At the Other End of the Line," an English speaking movie where she played a call centre worker, very much a girl next door type, except she decided on impulse to travel to America to sneak up on an American she had talked to on the phone.  Shortly after some effort saw her in her native Tamil, as a sexy double crossing bitch where she was impressive in a different way.  She has appeared in a Canadian movie,  "Cooking with Stella,"   More famously she was in "Midnight's Children" directed by Deepa Mehta.  Mostly she gets stuck with supporting roles and reviewers usually commenting on her looks.   I follow her on IMDB, but lately there hasn't been very much positive except for "Drishyam."

Rajat Kapoor is another familiar face  usually in small supporting roles, often as a sophisticated business man.  He played an important small role in  "Dil Chatha Hai," a movie partly set in Goa  as is "Drishyam."  He is also in comedies.  In "Drishyam" he again plays the sophisticated business man but is the one squeamish character which turns out to be an important factor in this movie.  He plays the husband to the real star, Tabu.

Tabu (birth name Tabassum Hashmi) has established a strong reputation.  She played a small role in "The Life of Pi"  (Pi's mother then dies off),  and "The Namesake"  She played a military leader in "Fanaa".  She  was in a romance comedy, "Cheeni Kum."  In "Astitva" " she plays the one time unfaithful wife of a hypocritical husband.  She won an award playing in "Haider " (as Hamlet's mother) and has won numerous awards in India.  She is award worthy in this film.  The trailer portrays her as a tough opponent, and in that regard she is more brutal than shown in the trailer, but also much more nuanced--particularly as a mother of a missing son.  More on her:

Two young girls who you might think are just decorations, but both required for critical moments and perform very well.  Ishita Dutta played the elder daughter and Mruan Javhad the younger.

Supporting actors are better than average.  A rough and ready police officer is well done as you will come to despise him.  Friends and family roles done well.

The story is a little different in that we know who committed the "crime" and we know the efforts to   catch them, but this is focused on how to avoid detection. Psychology is very important and is so well done that you feel yourself tensing up numerous times.

The director Nishikant Kamat uses such subtleties that reminds one of Hitchcock.  Actors are required to display a wide range of emotions.  I can only vaguely recall one other of his movies, "Mumbai Meri Jann" about a terrorist attack done with suspense.

The movie is a clever cat and mouse game with Tabu and Ajay.  She is the only one to realize he has concocted a story and cleverly induced many others to back it up.  The ending is poetic, but some have described as a twist, but there are many twists before hand and the ending is really sublime.

Except for some violence (mostly beatings), the movie is suitable for family viewing.  Bollywood for the most part is not as sexually explicit as Europe, Asia or even Hollywood, but you realize Ajay has a healthy sex relation with his wife and that sex sensitivity in a more puritanical society like India plays a key role.

My wife and I are watching and enjoying  "How to Get Away with Murder" which in a way could have been the title of "Drishyam."  The Viola Davis drama is more sensational and less psychological and with a lot of gratuitous sex.  I like a balanced diet of entertainment.

I came across comments that the story came from "The Devotion of Suspect X," a book I think is one of the best crime psychology books ever written, but what they have in common is only the idea of dueling with a smart detective.  There is a Japanese movie of that book and I would love to see it.

Chances are good you will before too long have access through your local library or maybe Netflix.  Likely there will be another adaptation.  I am also looking forward to the next movie of Tabu, "Talvar" that is already doing well at the festivals (including TIFF) with Irrfan Khan.  Ajay is in "Dilwale" with his wife, Kajol and the other half of my favorite jodi, Shah Rukh Khan which should be an interesting grouping.

As I rarely do single movie reviews the following links are to other exceptions.  To view another posting about a Bollywood classic with one of the same participants check out:  Still another single movie review with a "Drishyam" participant is at: