Saturday, December 31, 2016

Film Memories from 2016

You might think I am obsessed with movies and you would be right.  A good movie gives insight and can be enjoyable.  Too many are time fillers.  Hopefully you will find some of those mentioned below to be enjoyable and insightful.

English speaking

"Room" of all the eligible films was the most deserving of Academy award in my opinion.  Psychologically the first half was very difficult to watch.  A young boy is really a prisoner, but he doesn't know it.  His captive mother protected her son by fabricating a frame for their lives.  Later we meet her mother and father (who found it very difficult to accept a rapist offspring).  The second half was all about adjustments that were slow  Directed by Lenny Abrahamson.  The novelist, Emma Donoghue wrote the screen play.  It was filmed in Toronto.

"Amira and Sam," is about a returning Iraqi war veteran and an unorthodox Iraqi immigrant. The leading actor is actually a stand-up comic and makes a few political points.  Not so much about the Middle East as about how commercial interests exploit veterans. A nice romantic comedy on the side.

"Ex Machina" with the Alan Turing question on artificial intelligence.  Special effects were innovative.  Dombhell Gleeson and Alicia Vikander were excellent.

"Revanant" earned Leo Di Caprio a well deserved Oscar.  But it is a brutal movie testing what man can survive.

"Bridge of Spies."  Tom Hanks is always an indicator of something worth watching.  Also I found its message to be politically relevant.

"Spotlight" represents journalism at its best.  Resources to go up against organizations that are above accountability.  It is scary that such efforts will become rarer in the future.

Watching "Truth" just before one of the big debates.  I was able to appreciate the downfall of Dan Rather in a Facebook posting about the debate.  When truth runs up against power it can get crushed.  Read more here:

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" is told from a juvenile point of view, but gets to the heart of the meaning of life.

"Eye in the Sky" was actually conceived as science fiction, but now there is nothing in it that is not being used today.  It points out the moral dilemma created by drones, that can achieve strategic goals, but always risk collateral damage.  It is not often that a Somalian actor, Barkhal Abdi gets to be a hero.

"Big Short" is confusing, but for the average consumer it is meant to be.  The 2008 Recession did not have to be, but given loose regulations and manipulative investors it was almost inevitable.  Should be seen by all those who think the Republicans have the right solutions.  Enjoyed a cameo by Richard H Thaler, an economic behaviourist I have come to appreciate.  Read more about his views:

"Brooklyn," well done, with a story of romance it also showed the immigrant experience including adjustments made, a bit of the melting pot and the benefits to the receiving society.

For me, "The 33" started with a book recommendation from NPR and reading the book "Deep Dark Down."  The next step was as a lover of Andean music I bought some of the movie music.  The movie itself captured much of the complicated human relationships and the tension.

"Inside Out" had been suggested repeatedly by my daughter, Heather.  Finally I watched and can appreciate how unique it is.  Told from a perspective of emotions of a young girl it demonstrated how important emotions are to our decisions.   It reminded me of a book Heather had gifted me about the most important detail of time management was to remember the good and constructive memories.  On the other hand the movie also pointed out the role of less joyful emotions with sadness becoming a key factor in the climax.  The special features detailing how the idea developed was well worth it.

"Citizenfour" about Edward Snowden who impressed me as very conscientious and intelligent.

"Show me a Hero" is really a tv. mini series that I treated like a movie,  Really gets into local political maneuvering.  Set in Yonkers, New York.

"Third Person"is easily misunderstood, but really a work of genius by Paul Haggis.  It is meant to be confusing, but if you follow it carefully (more than I usually do) it will be clarified at the end. It is not something I wish to explain as to help it make sense would spoil it, except to say it tries to recreate a writing experience.

"Hunt for the Wilderpeople" was an interesting film from New Zealand.  The star was an overweight young boy, Julian Dennison.

"Inter-Stellar" a major science fiction movie with Matthew Mcconaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain..  Big budget well spent with special effects and a good story.

"Judgment at Nuremberg" has a very high rating and more than met expectations.  Spencer Tracy had the role of someone genuinely trying to understand how the Nazis controlled Germany.  Maximilian Schell was allowed to put forth the German case.  Richard Widmark, Montrgomery Cliff, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland were part of an all star cast and all were very good in their roles.  There was a lot of nuance in this movie that really made it stand out.

A political movie of the same era was "Truman,"  a biography of a great man.

I can only recall one horse movie and it was targeted to children,  "Misty" about the Chincoteague ponies.  One term used in this older movie was "gentling"

Documentaries make you think.  Some that had an impact were "Bitter Honey," which covered polygamy in Indonesia.   The director had taken a long time to build up trust to get both the male and female perspective, but the viewer sympathizes with the women.

"Xmas without China" showed how dependent we are on Chinese goods.  But also gave insight into the feelings of being a Chinese-American.

"Merchants of Doubt " was based on a book regarding how vested interests can twist facts to make them seem uncertain.  Read about the book:

"Dawn of Humanity" explored the origins of man in Africa.

"He named me Malala" based on a book I had read, but her personal presence was even more impressive.

"The War Room" was based on Bill Clinton's successful presidential campaign of 1992.  It was interesting to see some tv. political commentators in their relative youth.

"Pompeii:  The Last Day" helped reinforce one of my bucket list items.

"Wings 3D" was a personal indulgence (with my cats) got watch birds from a birds eye view--very impressive

Before I get to the subtitled selections I also saw a classic silent film, "Intolerance" which could also be labelled subtitled, but is different in that to communicate they don't just rely on subtitles.  Much like a stage production they exaggerate many (not all) of their actions and when well done it it not too difficult to read between the lines.  D W Griffith was a pioneer in many respects. First to shoot a film in Hollywood, popularized close-ups, found new techniques for camera placement and against advice helped develop feature length films. Highly regarded by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.  "Intolerance" was a very complicated story over three hours long with some interesting music and massive sets and huge casts including extras.  Worth seeing to appreciate how this particular movie helped progress the industry.


A number of Italian movies were watched in appreciation of their role in cinematic history.  One of best films seen this  year was  "Life is Beautiful"  See more at: "The Wonders" appeared at the film festival in Hamilton and is well worth a view.

French films seen included "Samba"with Omar Sy and Charlotte Gainsbourg about immigration.  "Chinese Puzzle" was the third end of "L'Aubergue Espangnole" and "Russian Dolls" trilogy.  Enjoyable cast, Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Kelly Reilly and Cecile de France carried all the way throughout.  Hope they add another.

 "Oscar et la dame Rose" is about a young boy whose parents don't want to tell him that he is dying, but he develops a relationship with someone hired to amuse him and with other patients.  "Dheepan"  was featured at a local film festival and is partly Tamil and French.  Subtle cultural adjustments were well done.

Back in January I watched an Israeli film "The Farewell Party".  It was about an issue film goers don't like to think about; euthanasia.  Well done and surprisingly with a lot of laughs.  "Zero Motivations" was based on women soldiers was another interesting Israeli movie.

Iranian speaking actor Peyman Moaadi  in American film, Camp X-ray (based in Guantonamo) with Kristin Stewart.  Earlier watched in in a lesser role  in a Farsi language movie "About Elly" with Taraneh Alidoosti who will appear in "The Salesman," a movie I am looking forward to.  "Taxi" was another undercover film by Jafar Panahi.

Chinese--"What Women Want-"-not recommending it, but opened my eyes to Andy Lau singing+ Li Gong is a treat.  "Ocean Heaven" was first dramatic role for Jet Li, well known martial arts actor  One I would recommend is "The Great Hypnotist"--it has an interesting twist well executed.  "Coming Home" is outstanding  "Mountains May Depart"  "Dearest" was the best--confusing, deals with one child policy, but also abductions which apparently are more common--a tear jerker

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" was mainly Mandarin, set in Shanghai, but lots of English with Hugh Jackman in a small role.  I enjoyed the music by British composer Rachel Portman.  It was a joint U.S. Chinese venture with Chinese actors, but also with a Korean I am just starting to notice, Ji-hyun Jun.  Trying to track down her big hit, "My Sassy Girl."  Wayne Wong, the director commented on some of the language concerns.  Much of the movie was in English, but filming was actually done with Ji-hyun Jun speaking Korean and dubbed in Mandarin with other actors replying in Mandarin.

Browsing through a cart at the Burlington Library selling old DVD's at a bargain price chanced upon "Life Express."  It caught my attention as a co-operative effort between China and Taiwan.  Apparently produced from Hong Kong, but set in Beijing and Taipei.  Hong Kong speaks Cantonese while both Beijing and Taipei speak Mandarin.  Unable to tell the difference myself but amazed that the two governments could co-operate in a life and death situation.  The story had more twists than I anticipated.  An earthquake during a marrow extraction with traffic complications was perhaps the most noticeable event, but there were others.  A good production with Taiwanese actors.  Encouraging that despite politics co-operation is still possible.

Bollywood:  "Tamasha" a great movie about story telling set in Corsica and India.

"15 Park Avenue" from 2005 about mental illness told very credibly  "Sanam teri Kasam"--powerful tear jerker with newcomers in lead   "Kapoor and Sons" a family drama with a noteworthy performance by Rishi Kapoor.

"Neerja" a biography of an air stewardess who saved 359 lives during a hijacking that she didn't survive.  Sonam Kapoor was a good choice for the role.  Shabana Azmi played the mother of the heroine and the actual mother had a small role.

"Fan"restored my faith.  Shah Rukh Khan,the biggest movie star on earth in a revealing portrait--he plays a duo role--an egotistical star plus a pscyho fan much younger.  He is my favourite actor and you can read more about him at:  This movie is discussed in part two.

Classic "AAG" from 1948 was the debut for Raj Kapoor as director, producer, writer and lead actor.  It does seem dated, but is amazing what he could do with limited resources.

A low budget film with no stars "Nil Battey Sannata"  focused on education and a mother-daughter relationship.  Testy at times

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"Pink" is a revolutionary film really stripping our pretensions of gender equality.  Excellent performances.  Really mind opening  The most noteworthy Bollywood film of the year.  Read more at:

"Airlift" with a big budget drew on the largest airlift in history as Indian citizens fled Kuwait during the Iraq invasion.   Akshay Kumar is getting better roles and is joined here by Nimrat Kaur.  "Rustom" also with Akshay Kumar is a love story under the cover of a murder.  I didn't know what to think of the preview and write-ups, but it turned out to be very good.`````

"Ki  and Ka" received generally poor reviews, but I enjoyed the concept about gender roles and the performance of Kareena Kapoor Khan who has not always been a favorite of mine.

"M.S.Dhoni' was highly recommended, but I expect most were more entranced with cricket than I am.  It seemed like a lot of sports stories.  Yes I do respect cricket a little bit more than before seeing the movie.

"Sultan," widened my appreciation of Salman Khan as well as Anushka Sharma.  Much better than I anticipated with lots of drama and romance as well as wrestling.

Last week of the year I stumbled on "Chillar Party."  I had previously read a bit about and thought it not only a kid's movie, but very childish.  Something read more recently encouraged me to look more closely.  There are lot of adults portrayed in the movie, but really it is a group of mostly boys, apparently around 8 to 10 (or so).  They appear basically fun loving kids, but they run up against political authorities over a stray dog.  They don't understand at first what they are up against, but gradually they figure out a few things.  Each of the young boys are very unique.  A girl added in for their efforts, about 12 gives them some advice and got my attention.  With some inter net searching I realized I had seen her before and she also got my attention then, Shreya Sharma.  She played one of three un co-operative kids in an enjoyable but inappropriate movie.  She was delightful to watch and was the youngster who most seemed to match Rani Mukerji in subtle ways.  Produced by Salman Khan, an actor I have avoided, but recently have come to appreciate has been in some good movies and now realize he has also been a producer.  Another movie of his I had seen was "Dr Cabbie" based in nearby Toronto.

Even more recent watched "Agneepath" which I anticipated would be very violent, which it was, but well done revenge story with one exceptional song sung by Sonnu Niggam.

Korean films are worth exploring.  "A Hard Day" offered black humour and a plot twist.   "Veteran" a comic action tragic combination well done.  "The Beauty Inside" was based on US tv mini series and one writer from "200 Pounds beauty,"  "Hope" is an exceptional movie and one of the very best of the year for me.  Find more at:

The Hispanic film world brought a few interesting movies.  From Argentina "Cautiva,"   "Valetin" and" Todas las Azafatas van al cielo"  From Chile, "Gloria" portrayed an older women and her love life.  From  Mexico,  "Quemar las Naves" was enjoyable.  "Embrace of the Serpent" from Colombia gave a view of natives being invaded by European explores.  "65 of your life" was one from Spain worth watching.,

"7 Anos"  a Spanish film partly financed by Netflix is a very interesting study.  Read more at my most popular blog post of the year of all topics.

Ordinary ratings, but "Ma Ma" is a  really a well done feel good movie from Spain, even though it is focused on an impending death.  Penelope Cruz is very attractive in this movie (not just her good looks) and Luis Tozar shows a different character than I am used to.  Also discovered Alberto Iglesias' music who I have heard before, but not appreciated.

The one Swedish movie seen  was "Simon and the Oaks."

From the Dutch I saw "Secrets of War" told from a child's viewpoint on wartime occupation of Holland.  One friend's parents are Nazi sympathizers while another's parents are involved with the Resistence but they do not tell their youngest.  A young girl comes on the scene to complicate matters.  One of the best war movies involving children I have seen.

An early German movie, "The Rabbit is Me" was originally banned in East Germany as it discussed government suppression.

"Difret" was produced in part by Angela Jolie, but used an all Ethiopian cast and written and directed

From Brazil saw two worthy movies.  "The Second Mother"  class dynamics, some localized, but universal

From "Trash" the cinematography and editing were unusually good.   With two American actors, Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara,  an English director Stephen Daldrey it was top notch with great music, both original and borrowed. More at:

See my thoughts on movies viewed in 2015:


Books are alive and well.  In fact there are far more than we have time to read.  The following are some books I enjoyed.  The impulse came from many different sources including just browsing around library shelves and carts, listening to or watching suggestions on tv, radio or newspapers.  A few were pointed out to me on social media.  My opinion is limited because my scope is limited, but I hope that maybe a spark of interest might direct you to something worthy of your time.  I did read others, but these are the ones I would suggest for your consideration.

I am not picking a best choice for non-fiction as the ones listed all had something valuable to offer.

"The Meaning of Human Existence" and "Half Earth" by E. O. Wilson.  You cannot get much more profound than this.  The author sees religion as trying to provide supernatural explanations for life as we experience it while science is uncovering natural explanations.  Diminising bio diversity should concern us all.  More at

"The Right Way to Lose a War" by Domenic Tierney took a different view of winning a war--it is not necessarily all victory or all defeat.

Diet books seem to endlessly offer new options which are really variations on old themes. "The Joy of Half a Cookie" is really dealing with the psychology of eating.  One reads a book with good advice then forgets about it.  I am finding some books with good points and am sometimes able to adopt some of the good points at least some or the time.

"Riding Home," pre titled "The Power of Horses to Heal" was first heard about at a trade show I attended.  Most urbanized people dismiss horses as historical or as pets for the rich.  Tim Hayes who did not ride a horse until he reached age 47 found that horses offered people a lot more.  Some examples of the impact of horses were with hardened prisoners and PTSD victims.

"Decisivie" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath contend that with decisions, process is more critical than analysis.  Whenever I was faced with a conscious decision I would try to analyze it often using the Ben Franklin method.  The authors develop a more effective strategy.   We all have made millions of decisions to arrive at our current status and if you would like to make decisions that improve your situation this book is a very good place to start.

"Focus" by Daniel Goleman who brought us the concept of Emotional Intelligence.  In this book he writes about how the brain is always focused on something, but we can with some effort choose what to focus on.  A bigger point he makes is that it is very easy to focus on some small thing, but we would do better to see the bigger picture and how the one small thing fits in.  More at:

A Rage for Order"  recommended by Fareed Zakaria dealt with the Arab Spring which has had different results in different countries.  There was a lot agreement that conditions were very poor for most of the people, but little agreement on how best to handle.   Religious differences are key with fundamentalism.  Tunisia represents a fragile hope.

"The Ottoman End Game" reminds us that there were other empires in the world and they have influenced today's politics.  More details at:

"Lights Out" delivered another danger to be afraid of:  The acknowledgments is interesting in itself.

"The Reason You Walk" by Wab Kinew native concerns, but universal in dealing with his father's death.

"Dark Money"  there have always been suspicions  If you are concrrned about the recent American election this book suggests the power of money, especially when it can be kept secret.  There are many wealthy people who want to change the rules.  The Koch brothers figure prominently in this book and although they did not take a liking to Mr Trump they apparently now feel they can use him to achieve their ends.  Money is not just used for putting out your message it is used for analyzing how to deal with different targets.

"The Half has Never Been Told" by Edward E. Baptist--slavery is history and we have moved on, but the truth is slavery has impact today.  Even on the recent American election.

"Misbehaving"  by Richard H Thaler- disproves the contention that economics is the most rational of the social sciences.  Economic decisions are very much influenced by psychological and social factors.  If you get a chance to watch "The Big Short" you can see a clip of Richard Thaler explaining the 2008 financial crisis to Selena Gomez.

"Makers and Takers"  by Rana Foroohar shows how finances developed historically up to the Great Recession of 2008.  Read more at:

"The Wisest One in the Room" hits one of my aspirations.  The wisest man is not quick with answers.  Modern society seems to put a premium on quick answers, but the authors point out that it is not that right answers are so difficult, but that wrong answers are often too easy.

"Pandemic"  by Sonia Shah more interesting and easy to read than anticipated.  Modern life gives pandemics more opportunities, however co-operation can make a difference.  a lot of political interference.  An interesting link between sex and immunity.  The blog post on this one is the most read of all my book blogs:

Despite the relative dearth of fiction books on my list, the truth is well written ones are too engrossing for me.  I am so distracted that the rest of my life including business and household chores are neglected.  E O Wilson pointed out that telling lies is often the best way to express the truth.

"The Illegal" by Lawrence Hill was the author's second winner at Canada Reads.  I also read "Bone and Bread  another selection, but preferred"A Hero's Walk"  by Anita Rau Badami, but they were all enjoyable.  I watched parts of the selection process which is exciting as you see advocates supporting their selection and often analyzing the competition.

I chose to read two library selections; "The Day the Falls Stood Still" and "The Illegal" Both books were selected to focus a whole city's reading, one from Burlington and the other from Hamilton.  Both were enjoyable with opportunities to understand them better.

"Fifteen Dogs" by André Alexis won the Scotiabank Giller prize.  I actually bought this for my daughter who is a discerning reader who shares ownership of a four legged visitor to my home.  If you are a dog lover you will notice some keen observations.  If you are not you can delve into philosophical questions.  If you are like me you might even know some of the geography.

"Quantum Night" by Robert J Sawyer is as usual full of science, but also philosophy and more than ever politics.  Set mostly in western Canada.

One habit is to read a book by Jane Urquhart and this year, the selection was "Sanctuary Line" which was set in a part of Ontario I have some limited experience in.  Driving through Kingsville and Leamington I was struck by a number of Mexican retailers and eateries and this book helped put that in context.  As usual human relations are her strong point with a few unexpected twists that show we don't always understand how everyone ticks.

"Big Little Lies," by Liane Moriarty first brought to my attention by Vijayakumar MK Nair, a Facebook friend.   Inner dialogue helps to understand the characters better.  Well constructed.  The first chapter lets you know there is a problem and then the book goes back several months to explain how a group of people were intertwined, then the problem is explained and then a very short followup.  The reader is taken inside the mind of several characters and keeps you guessing as more details fall into place.  This was the most enjoyable fictional read for me of the year .

I felt that many of the non fiction books gave me a useful insight, but do not want to select a best.  For fiction I would have to say the most enjoyable book has been 'Big Little Lies."

Each of us who enjoy reading are confronted by an enormous mountain of books.  I welcome suggestions to help narrow down the choices.   There always has to be a book close at hand.  Right now have started "Homegoing" and also a book on mindfulness and sleep.  "The Vegetarian" is also on list.

To check out the books I enjoyed in 2015 go here:

Monday, December 26, 2016


Recently borrowed the "Truman" DVD and was inspired by one line to write this post.  "How many times do you have to be hit on the head before you figure out who is hitting you?"  The line came from a train campaign speech in 1948.  He pointed out that after the war there was no recession because they took care of the veterans and others.

The Republicans spend their energy and money telling everyone how awful  the Democrats are.  The facts tell a different story, but most eligible voters don't have the time to understand the real facts.  It is almost always the Democrats that raise employment, lower the debt and boost equality for minorities.  Unfortunately for too many years too many people the Democrats have  been associated with a dirty word--"liberal."  Liberal has come to mean favoring socialism which somehow translates to a dictatorship.  Those who want to cut regulations certainly see Democrats as potential dictators.

Corruption forms the base of getting elected.  Truman tries to avoid it, but then ends up making deals and finally walking away, before being lured into more public service.  Gets elected to the U.S. Senate just before the bombardment of Pearl Harbor.  He is chosen to lead some queries against corruption with war contracts.

He attempts to not being nominated as Vice-President, but is shamed into it by Franklin Roosevelt. The war is not yet over and Truman becomes president upon the death of Roosevelt.  Truman was never considered a great president during his term in office, but now is much more admired.

He is famous for posting "the buck stops here" on his desk.   The war was still on and it fell to Truman to make some difficult decisions.  He had a desire to understand and to avoid excuses. Decisions were never lightly made and studied over before being made.

Perhaps the biggest decision was to use the atomic bomb.  Easy to criticize now, but then he had the weight of tens of thousands of expected American deaths and wanted to end the war sooner.

Unlike many other conquerors Truman saw the need to rehabilitate both the enemies and allies that fought in Europe and Asia.  The Marshall Plan was truly unique and is responsible for today's relations with Europe and Japan.  NATO was also initiated under the Truman administration.

After consulting with one of his home state friends he decided to support the State of Israel.

Civil rights were in a sorry state and Truman from Missouri was very conscious of it.  The Democrats were dependent on the southern white vote, but Truman took steps to advance blacks, particularly in the military.

The Korean War caught Americans off guard, but he managed to get an international alliance to fight off the Communists.  General Douglas MacArthur was a war hero and had accomplished a brilliant manoeuvre over the Korean enemy, but  soon over drew his authority and endangered diplomatic concerns.  He was loved by American people, but many insiders felt he had to go.  Truman was offended by what he saw as arrogance.  In the movie it showed that Truman's mother-in-law was upset that Truman was considering firing the hero.  Truman did dismiss MacArthur who was more popular than himself.

Anti-Communist hysteria was developing headed most noticeably by Joe McCarthy.  Truman felt he was a liar, but recognized he was popular.  In the movie someone tried to hand him some embarrassing evidence on McCarthy and he was told that the information could be distributed without being tied to the presidency.  Truman not wanting deniability put an end to scheme to stop McCarthy, feeling that the truth would eventually come out.  He didn't want to dirty the office of President.

He left with an approval rating of 32% and no White House pension or Secret Service protection.   As time went by he was appreciated as one of the better Presidents.  My father had given me a book about Truman several decades ago and I was struck by the characterization that he was a plain (some would say blunt) speaker.

Like Obama, Truman presented an understated dignity.  It is depressing to think how misleading blustery behaviour is favored by voters who have not really examined the issues.  "Truman" was a good reminder of decency and a true public servant.  I believe the public will look back on Obama as an under appreciated lost opportunity.

Gary Sinise who played Truman was said by  reviewers to have  studied mannerisms and projected a realistic portrayal.  The movie lasted a little over two hours and was very effective at covering the important moments of his life.  Archival films are used to bring out the feelings of the time.  Colm Ferore, an actor familiar to Canadians played a key role as a Truman confidante.  Directed by Frank Pierson who has been involved producing, writing or directing with some popular tv series including Mad Men (not seen); "The Good Wife" and one I used to watch with my father, "Have Gun will Travel."  Tom Rickman adapted David McCullough's novel.

Tony Goldwyn played advisor Clark Gifford, a lawyer who later went on to be trusted advisor to John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson and Jimmy Carter.  Is credited with encouraging a pro civil rights stance.   Tony is the son of Sam Goldwyn Jr and has been an actor, director and producer.  Films he has appeared in include:"Ghost" (1990), "The Pelican Brief" (1993), "Truman" (1995), "Scandal" (2012-2018) where he played the president for seven seasons.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Most of us whites think of slavery as history with no significant consequences today.  But slavery shaped America in ways most citizens are unconscious of with very definite impacts today.  Edward E Baptist has done a scholarly job of uncovering the real story.

Eight Presidents were slave owners helped by a Constitution that counted slaves as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of electing members to the House of Representatives which in turn gave slave states more leverage in the Electoral College. This is the same electoral college that has enabled Donald Trump to win the recent election, even though he trailed Hillary Clinton by well over 2 million votes.  Southerners forced the capital to move to newly created District of Columbia to be closer to them.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 is treated as a clever manoeuver by Thomas Jefferson, but it was more complicated.  In 1793 in the colony of St-Domingue the most successful of all slave revolts started.  Until 1799, under the leadership of Toussaint L'ouverture they fought off British infantry units. By 1800 Napoleon was in control of France and he wanted to restore monarchy.  He sent 50,000 soldiers to St-Dominque, better known as Haiti, but they too were defeated.  He had planned to send another army of 20,000 soldiers to take back New Orleans, but ended up diverting them to Haiti where they too were defeated.  To cut his losses he offered a bargain price for Louisiana.

Further to that, many French landowners, including sugar specialists migrated to New Orleans.  They brought some slaves with them, but wanted more.  Northerners had a delicate balance.  They did not want southern slave states to gain more political leverage, but some were invested in the slave trade.  The Mississippi Valley was now open to slavery.  Louisiana became a (slave) state in 1812.

The industrial Revolution really gained traction in northern England and the first significant product was cotton textiles. After the invention of a cotton gin in 1790 it unclogged a bottleneck in the process. They could sell as much as they could make and so they wanted more raw material.  America was expanding and had lots of land and cheap labour.  America by 1819 controlled the world's export market for cotton.

It is thought that machines are more efficient than manual labour, but in fact for quite a while human labour increased its efficiency faster than machines.  The secret was whips and violent calculated intimidation.  Just before the Civil War records were set for picking cotton and this became critical for economic growth.

Separation of families was seen as an economic decision.  Men were bought for particular needs, usually a wife not needed.  Women without children can work without their distraction.  Brothers and sisters were split as new buyers wanted one or the other, but not  both.  Men were called "boys" and whipped to humiliate them.  Men and women would form relationships and have them broken up and then form new relationships.  Thomas Jefferson once declared that separation from loved ones mattered little to the Africans.

Sex was a lure for many men buying female slaves.   Many women were bought for sex often being stripped at auctions.  Mulattos were one result.

Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans was also an Indian fighter and slave owner.  He pushed Indian tribes (about 50,000 individuals) off lands that allowed expansion of cotton and slave labour.  Texas belonged to Mexico, but American settlers moved in bringing slaves and after celebrated military actions were able to claim a large amount of land, in fact the third largest annexation in American history.  Slave owners saw this as a new opportunity.

Cuba, despite laws supposed to stop slave trade across the Atlantic imported 700,000.  Cuba became the biggest sugar producer in the world.  Southern slave owners were interested in Cuba as a source, but more to expand their leverage politically

Finance developed through the cotton trade.  English manufacturers needed material and farmers needed money to produce cotton.  Slaves were useful as collateral.  Bonds were sold to northern states and Europeans with in effect slaves being securitized.

The northern states developed manufacturing, stepping in with tariff protected cotton (England still did higher end textiles) and that led to supplying the south with such things as shovels, hoes, shoes, axes (using for clearing forests for farming).  They developed symbiotic relations with the southern slave owners and this led to sympathetic political arrangements.  Southerners were concerned about their property rights and demanded the right to have escaped slaves returned to their owners.

There was northern resentment of slavery and political forces to restrict its development.  Demographics changed over time with most European immigrants settling in the north and fearing competition from cheap labour.  The northern states could count the new immigrants as 5/5 of a person and gained control of Congress.  Southern slave owners were fearful of losing control and convinced the poorer whites that they needed to protect state rights, claiming if the north could impose equality of races, the whites would lose their status.  The author is quick to point out that the war was not for state rights, but to maintain slavery. It seems one political party still uses similar tactics to convince large numbers to vote against their economic self interest.

After the Civil War blacks gained some freedom, but it wasn't long before the whites reasserted their dominance.  Blacks had no accumulated wealth and soon had to contend with segregated schools and a range of Jim Crow laws.  In truth the situation was not much better in the north

A consolation and a form of communication for African slaves was music.  Their music was borrowed by whites and now is an integral part of American culture and spread around the globe.

There are many details that prove that slavery was critical to the development of American capitalism and created a culture of distrust, fear and continuing damage.  There is still much room for improvement.

The author, Edward E Baptist had a thought provoking response to a review of the book by the Economist magazine that puts the situation in a relevant context.

As a Canadian it is easy to be self-righteous, but we shouldn't be.  As one example it turns out that George Tuckett  a former mayor of my home city, Hamilton made a fortune by cornering the tobacco market in Virginia during the American Civil War.  He had a warehouse in Lynchberg, Virginia and was allowed to go back and forth because he was a Canadian.  I learned that his home originally known as the Tuckett Mansion is in my opinion the most interesting building in town, now known as the Scottish Rite building.  Thanks to Robin McKee.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Edward O Wilson tackles "The Meaning of Human Existence"

After completing a trilogy of Edward O Wilson books I would like to quote from the last paragraph of the final book.  "...we are the mind and stewards of the living world.  Our own ultimate future depends upon that understanding."

Edward O. Wilson is a scientist who has specialized in the study of ants.  Might seem an almost insignificant start for universal truths, but in reality it is as good as any other study.  Previously I blogged on "The Social Conquest of Earth" which in layman's terms outlined our evolution in physical and cultural terms.  It explores our past and future and gives thought to our purpose.  Some might be put off by comparisons with ants and termites, but they are apt.

"The Meaning of Human Existence" seems like a meaty title and it is.  Near the beginning he writes that meaning implies intention, intention implies design and in turn implies a designer, but he doesn't see it that way.  He feels the accidents of history, not the intentions of a designer are the source of meaning.  Each event is random, but alters the probability of later events.  A key to human evolution was to reach a stage he called "eusociality" that involves child rearing and sacrificing self interest for the good of others.  A very few other species have reached this stage such as ants and termites.

Altruistic individuals will almost always lose to selfish individuals, but altruistic groups can beat selfish groups.  Science is a continuum and we are not at the centre.  He deals with the big question of free will and I believe reaches a practical compromise.  Science tries to explain the known and religion tries to explain the unknown.  Wilson suggests we are becoming designers.

For such a high level scientist he has a great deal of respect for the humanities seeing them as another side of the same coin.  In the earlier book he quotes Picasso; "Art is the lie that shows us the truth."

"Half Earth" just published in 2016 is the culmination of the trilogy.  His main contention is that earth is threatened by diminishing bio-diversity.  The title comes from his belief that mankind in order to survive must reserve half of the earth as natural conservations areas.

Approximately 65 millions ago the earth was hit by a meteorite with such ferocity that 70% of all species disappeared after attacks of volcanoes, earthquakes, acid rain, heavy waves and blocking sunshine to stop photosynthesis.  Altogether scientist have determined there have been 5 periods of mass extinction and they are anticipating a 6th, but this one man made.

Some of the forces include habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, population growth and over-hunting.  Global warming/climate change is accelerating pressures.  Life has survived in a Goldilocks equilibrium (not too close or too far from the sun) for millions of years but is now facing new man made challenges.

The inter-relation of species is little understood.  Starting with the human body millions of microbes help us function while others fight invaders.  Bacteria breaks down and secretes organic material, cleans toxic waste and captures and collects energy from the sun.  We have much to discover within our own bodies, but just as much about the environment that has nurtured the earth for eons of time.

At present there is a little less than 15% of land and 2.8% of ocean set aside to protect bio-diversity and that is not enough to halt the acceleration of species extinction.

Wilson has a few suggestions to turn the situation around.  He feels we would appreciate nature more if in the protected areas were placed cameras whose views could be accessed easily by computers.  He also sees synthetic biology as a solution which may frighten many, but he thinks is mostly positive.  Wilson also regards artificial intelligence quite differently than depicted by Hollywood.  The only purpose of artificial intelligence is to extend human capability.  The human brain has been thought to be the most complex system in the universe, but Wilson thinks the individual natural eco system and the collectivity of eco systems comprising Earth's species-level biodiversity are more complex.

Taking a philosophical look at evolution the author notes that groups with individuals willing to sacrifice for the group were favored.  Groups naturally get bigger, starting with the family, the tribe, nation, humankind and beyond to the biosphere.  What we need more of he calls biophilia, love of the living process.  Earlier he quoted a French writer Jean Bruller before WWII, "all of mankind's troubles are due to the fact that we do not know what we are and cannot agree on what to become."

It is difficult to explain his concepts in a relatively short blog, but his books are well worth exploring. As he implies before you can better deal with the future you need to better understand the past and present reality.  Keep up to date with his thinking at

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Using words of Mr Trump himself, his election  to me is a "disaster" and "a catastrophe," but there is not much short of an armed rebellion that can be done.  A few days ago on Facebook I read a post that defended the electoral college that allowed Trump to win the election, even though Hilary Clinton actually won the popular vote by a number approaching one million and expected to go higher.

Every voting system helps determine a political strategy.  Here in Canada we are wrestling with a new system that could be either ranked or proportional.  Both are superior to the electoral college.

Some of the arguments made on the electoral system had some sense, but the more I think on it there are serious problems with the electoral college.  Whenever the number of voters is barely over 50% the election itself lacks credibility and it would be unfair to say anyone has a mandate.  The reasons people chose not to vote are many:  suppression, inconvenience, apathy, poor choices, distrust and I would add the feeling that your vote doesn't make any difference.

A voice on the radio pointed out that the electoral college can negate two million votes.  That means a lot of upset people who made the effort to vote.  The politicians knew the rules and one of them played them better, but the losers were the voters.  The way the electoral college works many votes are wasted meaning they have no impact on the final results.  If your party gets 0.5% less than the winner, by definition in most states your vote doesn't count and the other party gets all the electoral votes.  For many that would be a reason where the odds are further apart to not bother.

One of the arguments was that politicians would ignore the small population centres and to some extent that is true, but right now they ignore the states that have a tradition of voting one party consistently.  But if each vote is equal politicians will go anywhere where they feel they can make a difference.

Another argument was that the founders, those who negotiated the original Constitution did not favor a pure majority.  That is true.  What I understand is that at the time many of the politicians were slave holders and were very concerned that they could be out voted by the industrial north.  Many of the early presidents were slave holders including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  Also bear in mind that only propertied males of a certain age were eligible to vote.  There are people who think that was a better arrangement, but most of us would disagree and have been successful in expanding the number of voters.

It is true that rural residents do have a different set of priorities that should be respected.  I have lived in a rural area at a young age, but have spent most of my life in urban centres and each has influenced my thinking.  The rural voice is much needed and it doesn't mean much if they don't have some power, but neither should they dominate the majority of the population.  An earlier blog on this issue:

Since the twentieth century only two elections have been decided by the electoral college when the popularity vote was different.  In both cases the Democrats lost.  I think most Americans would agree that George Bush was not a successful president and I would venture that most Americans (and most of the rest of the world) do not feel good about the Trump presidency.

There have been Supreme Court judges who felt that their job is to determine the original founder's intention before they rule on new laws.  It appears that more judges who think that way are apt to be appointed.

Any Constitution is prone to flaws because they are made by humans with vested interests.  One flaw that draws attention is the practice of gerrymandering.  In Canada the task of deciding voting district boundaries is formally non partisan.  In America that task is given to partisans.

In elections since 2010 with one exception the Republicans have been able to win more House of Representatives seats with fewer votes than have the Democrats   Since 2012 they have been able to obstruct which is ironic.  Many of the things they obstructed are what voters complained that the Democrats didn't do.  Ironically (or perhaps not) the Republicans did win the majority of House votes and retained the majority of seats in 2016.

Voting systems can be very complicated, but I believe an important question is why didn't more people vote.  A winning politician has more credibility when they can claim they represent all the people.  A country benefits when every voter feels their vote counted.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

7 Anos

7 Anos is Spanish for 7 years.  Why would you want to spend 7 years in prison?  That is what this movie seen on Netflix, focuses on.  Netflix which has been in operation in Spain for a little over a year agreed to helped produce and distribute this Spanish film.

It is a very interesting exercise in mediation.  Mediation only happens when there is a conflict and the participants seek an outsider to help resolve the issues.  Each conflict is unique, but they share some commonalities.

The conflict is established fairly quickly.  A firm with four founding partners is being investigated and they have reason to believe that within a few days they will be charged and since they are each guilty they all could spend 7 years in prison.  They learn that it is possible for one of them to take a fall so that the business could carry on.  They cannot agree which one of them it should be and invite a mediator to help.

At first the mediator is presented with a contract for a period of years and he sees that the amount is far above his normal pay.  They have no long term problems for him, but next promise if he can mediate successfully their urgent problem he will get the job.

The mediator explains 3 rules:  everyone must be willing and if not can walk out at any time; they must listen to each other; and the mediator is not to take sides.

The mediator after hearing a brief account of their problem started by explaining a case.  Basically two men wanted a particular orange.  The challenge was how could they please both men.  The answer was to find out why each man wanted the orange.  In the example it was decided one man wanted the skin for a cake and the other wanted  the pulp for juice.  The point was that everyone is in a different situation and they should try to find the differences to decide.

The rationalization for the crime was they were working something close to 100 hours a week and the accountant realized she was being taxed at 56%.  And they further reasoned that the government wasted their money.

What follows is that grudges are brought out between the four.  They all recognize that each is important to the company.  One invented the product.  Another acts as managing director.  The third is a salesman who brings clients to them.  The fourth, a woman handles their money and is the one who initiated a tax evasion process that they all adopted and is the reason for the investigation.  The viewer is never told anything about the product.

They discussed who would suffer the least.  One of the men pointed out that it is common for white collar workers to get raped by hardened criminals.  The one woman pointed out there was a limited number of female prisons in Spain all of them too far for her relatives to visit and that women are easily raped by the prison staff.  Some of them tried to claim they had more family responsibilities.

They discussed who was most needed at the company and for their families.  Some personal details came out including who was slacking off, an affair and another and an abortion.  At one time one partner slugs another and draws blood upon which the mediator gets up to leave.  The man who threw the punch apologized and promised it wouldn't happen again.  The mediator was only persuaded to return after all four asked him to.  At one point one of the partners recalled when all four were in Las Vegas for a critical presentation and after a problem they all contributed to the success that got them launched.

The resolution had many ups and downs and finally reached a conclusion at which time there was a twist.  I won't spoil it as for me what made the movie so enjoyable was the process.  The acting, writing and direction was excellent so you could feel the tension in the room.  All the action took place in one moderate sized room with a sink and terrace.

Spain is supposed to be a strong anti-smoking nation and a few times it was pointed out all smoking had to be done on the terrace.  Later one of the partners broke that rule and ironically used the cigarette package warning to make the point that he wished there were more warnings.

The director Roger Gual had won a Goya award (like a Spanish Oscar).  Married to Marta Torné who provided a telephone voice near the end.  Roger also contributed to the writing along with Julia Fontana (the main writer), Jose Cabreza and producer Christian Conti.  Conti also produced a Peruvian/Columbian movie, "Undertow," a most unusual film I enjoyed a few years back.

Federico Justid, from Argentina wrote the music for this movie and for the Academy award winner "The Secret in their Eyes."

The viewer sees only five actors and they each play off one another very well.  Alex Brendemuhl had played Josef Mengele in the Argentine movie, "The German Doctor."  He also played with Ricardo Darin in "Truman" that I hope to see.  He has also appeared in German movies.  Juan Pablo Raba originally born in Colombia, but raised in Spain got started in Colombian television.  He can be seen in "The 33" and "Narcos.".  Manuel Morón who played the mediator was also in the prison drama, "Cell 211," and "Dark Blue Almost Black."  Juana Acosta is also from Colombia appeared in "The Liberator," one of my favourites from last year and has also been in at least one French movie.  Paco Leon had been a popular Spanish television star and has directed films and television series.

The Spanish speaking film industry is rich and diverse.  One of my most popular film blogs covers the topic in more detail including some more details of referred movies. Hopefully Netflix will make more of them available in Canada and the United States.

Note:  The bolded movie titles are ones that I actually saw.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Sitting in North America we usually think of pandemics as something in horror movies or news from across the ocean.  They are a natural phenomena made more critical by modern life.  "Pandemic" could have been a very boring recital of scientific data, but Sonia Shah has made it very interesting, like a detective novel uncovering a variety of factors for past pandemics and predicting likely future configurations.

The pathogens that lead to epidemics and pandemics have always been in our midst, but modernization has provided new opportunities.  Mixing of animals with humans and poor waste management.  As transportation improved such as the developmnet of steam boats allowed spread of diseases that might previously have died a natural death.

It is not just humans that are effected, but animals can have their own episodes as well as cross contamination between species.  Amphibians were decimated in 1998.  Wild birds are not normally able to infect humans, however an overlapping with domestic birds and pigs sped up new variations that could and did infect humans.  Bats were another carrier of disease.

In Egypt in 2009 to combat a contagious disease over 300,000 pigs were killed.  They had been raised by the Christian minority and were responsible for dealing with about 60% of citizen trash, thus their demise led to other serious problems.

Political decisions play an important role.  One of the richest banks in the world, J.P. Morgan was connected to a cholera epidemic.  A more logical source of clean water for the city of New York was the Bronx, but using it was blocked to give one banking group an edge.  Cholera occurred with the less healthy water supply.

In south Florida during the 2008 financial problems, large numbers of foreclosures led to abandoned swimming pools which proved to be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.  In 2009 there was an outbreak of dengue.  As sea level rises due to climate change salt water mixes with fresh water complicating the situation.

Science establishment, like other establishments will ridicule new conceptions.  Some individuals had discovered the source of specific diseases and even cures, but they were not always taken seriously.

Quarantines were used effectively as early as 1374 in Venice, but efforts conflicted with trade interests.  Political authorities have too often tried to suppress information about infectious diseases for fear of hurting business.  Examples were given for Italy (1911), China (2002), Cuba (2010 and 2012), Saudi Arabia in 2010.  Poor communications compounded the spread of disease.

The Canadian discoverer of penicillin, Dr Alexander Fleming cautioned the medical establishment of the dangers of over dosing.  Microbes develop resistance to drugs.  Humans often imbibe antibiotics eating farm animals that have been injected to promote growth.

In Haiti after their earthquake disasters, the UN called in troops from Nepal (that were cheaper than alternatives) that had been in cholera infected areas.  The conditions in Haiti were ripe for a cholera outbreak.  Driving into work today heard that Haiti is trying to organize a vaccination campaign for 800,000 people and recognize that will not eradicate cholera, but will help control it.

Vaccinations to prevent spread of some diseases has proved to be very effective, but when resisted has less impact.  There had been a history of forced vaccinations in Asia and more recently a campaign to uncover Osama bin Laden with its success hurt other efforts for vaccination.  In North America and other parts of the world some people have falsely linked vaccination to autism.  With high levels of vaccination a  herd immunity develops that gives some protection even to those not vaccinated.

Contagious diseases have played a key role in history.  Malaria kept Europeans out of the African interior for many years.  Europeans brought smallpox to North America and significantly weakened native resistance.

Climate change is having an impact as warmer temperatures allow a variety of pathogens to spread further.  A scary possibility is presented by fungi that can carry some threatening diseases is limited by temperature.  They infect cold blooded animals much more than warm blooded animals.  But as temperatures rise and the environment gets more compromised, fungi could represent a future danger for humans and other warm blooded animals.

It is very common for the general population and often politicians to look for scapegoats.  Among them may be immigrants, poor people, pigs and Asians.  Sonia gives an example of the  SARS scare of 2003 in Toronto that found many Asians shunned as it was thought to have originated in China.   One of my favourite movies, the Bollywood production of "Kal Ho Na Ho" started filming in Toronto, but overlapped with SARS arriving in the same city.  Before too long the film crew was transferred to New York and the script revised.  You can still see bits of Toronto in the finished product as they had already invested a good part of their resources.

The author uncovered in her research a link between sexual reproduction and pathogen immunity.  Originally all reproduction was asexual such as simply splitting cells  Asexual reproduction had most of the advantages against our favorite recreational activity, but sexual reproduction would not have survived if it did not offer some protection against pathogens as bio diversity is critical.  This history was due to studies by William Hamilton in the 1970's.  It was suggested that even in human mating activities that an underlying factor is pathogen fighting complementaries.

Read more about the author:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post Mortem

There is a lot of anger today.  Ignorance and bigotry have triumphed.  Perhaps I am just part of the intellectual elite (definitely not part of the economic elite).  The whole process may well have been illusionary and perhaps Donald Trump as I suspect will govern a little differently than his rhetoric.  He cannot be restrained by the Democrats, but perhaps some Republicans and big money will steer him to a less harsh course.

A few months back I blogged about the election being an IQ test: Anything less than a decisive rejection of Donald Trump's Republicans is a very disappointing result.  The taxes on the rich will be lowered significantly which in the end results in less money to be spent for the good of the people.   That in turn means more inequality.  The Supreme Court will be dominated  by those favouring the Citizens United decision as well as more restrictions on freedom (except for those with money).  Who can predict how someone sympathetic to Russian desires and spews divisive hatred will impact the Mid East and the rest of the world.

There is legitimate anger, but I believe it has been misplaced.  Inequality has been encouraged by Republican policies and that will not change.  Donald Trump walked away from several bankruptcies with millions of dollars.  Trade deals have taken away high paying jobs while replacing some elsewhere, but a bigger culprit has been and will be automation.

As a foreign observer, my views do not count for much and maybe miss some insight only available to those inside the situation.  Donald Trump out and out lied and although his followers didn't believe them all, they all saw something they really identified with.  For some it was bigotry and an explanation for their own poor status.  For others they were drawn to a conservative social agenda including anti-abortion,  anti-LGBT.  Others heard a drop in taxes for the rich and an emphasis on de regulation and smelled more profit for themselves.  Some admired his toughness from his reality show.  Still others it was good enough that he was a Republican and not a dreaded Democrat.  The combination was more than enough.

Republicans have succeeded in attracting voters who lose under their economic agenda by catering to social conservative agendas and besmirching their opposition.  It still works.  Donald Trump has gone this far by appealing to baser instincts as opposed to a set of  reasoned policies that would actually solve or mitigate problems they are so angry about.

It has not been difficult to learn facts that would disqualify anyone else.  His business dealings have not been friendly to the little guy, in fact he is often pictured as a con man.  His racism has been blatant--strongly insulting Mexicans, denigrating Black Lives Matter, painting Muslims as terrorists.  He has been very misogynist  in very vocal manner.  His blustering about knowing more than all the generals.  Climate change did not project as much as it should have, but he appeared very ignorant about it.  His Russian ties are mostly speculative but there have been Russian friendly policies introduced to the official Republican program.

How could it have happened? There is no one cause, but many to examine.

One culprit is the corporate media.  They recognized Donald Trump as a big boost to their ratings and gave him a lot of free time often on very trivial matters.  Admittedly he can draw a crowd.  The focus was mostly on the horse race aspects rather than which policies offered the best value or had the most credibility.  Bernie Sanders offered reasoned solutions to the problems that angered so many working class people, but he was pretty much ignored and dismissed until it was too late.

The corporate media was very harsh on Hilary Clinton who being human (an ambitious one) was less than perfect.  But she was most definitely not the monster projected by the Republicans and carried forth by too much of the media.  So many of the accusations hurled against her were very trivial, but repetition created an unfair image, compounded by her defensiveness.  The email issue was a course chosen by many others and in fact fairly logical at the time.  The critics overlooked serious non found emails from the George W. Bush who was caught off guard at 9-11, later decided he had a case to invade Iraq and still later involved in a scandal involving the firing of district attorneys who apparently failed to live up to conservative expectations.  Benghazi was another made up controversy overlooking far more deaths at embassies during George Bush's time, not to mention the thousands who died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ironically Obama appointed James Comey, a Republican to head the FBI.  An investigation failed to uncover anything they felt could be prosecuted, but he added that she was very careless.  After that died down a bit (but with much sniping) they apparently found something through another investigation that they felt was relevant.  Normal policy is you do not announce investigations until after some concrete evidence is found.  A bit later, after saying it was unlikely there was enough time to give a conclusion they finally did declare there was no evidence.  Meanwhile they decided not to announce about uncovering evidence of Russian hacking as it was too sensitive before an election.

Democrats have to accept some of the blame.  Several years ago they realized they had to compete against Republicans to get money for election campaigns and like the opposition they found nothing comes for free.  During Obama's time as President he was mostly faced with opposition determined to block anything, even if it was normally acceptable to them.  Personally I was disappointed they didn't seem to vocalize what they were up against.

Trade agreements are difficult things to negotiate.  You want access to another market, but they want access to your market.  They want jobs as well.  Investors want to get cheap labour and fewer regulations.  Theoretically consumers get better pricing for goods and have more cash to spare to spend on things and services that provide jobs.  Fair trade sounds better than free trade, but you need willing partners and some leverage.  Republicans like the access to other markets, to cheaper goods and profits from exploiting third world countries.  Protecting American jobs and retraining displaced workers need to be a high priority.

We all are ignorant, but few of us are aware of it.  Too many voters relied on media celebrity and simple solutions to complex problems.  Others were resentful of minorities or even repulsed to the point it clouded their judgment.  Education needs to be a higher priority.  It has been a strength of Americans, but lately has become controversial and expensive.

I cannot predict which of Donald Trump's many promises will be kept, but a few seem very likely.

The Supreme Court will soon get a new conservative judge to be followed by possibly two or three more.  This means Campaign Finance Reform will not happen.  Minorities will lose out.
Obamacare as it is known will diminish and not likely to be replaced with anything better or cheaper.
Relations with many countries will cool off a bit and possibly others will heat up a bit.  De-regulation will increase dramatically in all fields including energy, finance, and manufacturing.  Gun control will further loosen with untold consequences.  Climate change will become more noticeable, but it will be quite some time before the denialists get on board, even when the public demands it.

Thank you for letting me vent.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


The sort of tragedy or test depicted in "Hope" is the sort we read about and forget so we can move on.  Unless of course it hits closer to home. and we have to make adjustments that seem impossible.  The English title "Hope" refers to the name of the young protagonist and not the emotional state.  An alternative title is "Wish."

A young 8 year old girl, Hope is severely raped so that not only is she traumatized, but she is suffering from unimaginable injuries.  The movie begins with her as a young student with two busy, but caring parents.

On a rainy day, late for school she is stopped by a man who seems to sweet talk her.  We do not see the actual rape, but afterwards as she is carted on a stretcher to a hospital.  The injuries include facial cuts, but more critically her bowels need to be partially replaced.  She will be wearing a colostomy bag for the rest of her life and we are given discrete glimpses of it.  For awhile we see stitches on her face that only gradually fade away

The parents are very upset and demanding action against the perpetrator who is soon identified.  They and some of their friends are very stressed.  The mother was five months pregnant at the time and her husband only discovered it because she fainted at the hospital during all the turmoil.

A therapist in a wheelchair seems to be sympathetic, but the girl's mother emphatically rejects her.  Later there is a change of heart and we learn the therapist had been through a very similar story with her daughter raped while young and later committing suicide.  The therapist herself was so upset she tried to kill herself but instead lost her legs.  She recognizes a problem beyond Hope and treats the whole family.

Hope is embarrassed, but encouraged to go back to school.  One young boy started crying because he had not walked with her the day of her attack.  The father comforted him.  Hope is supported by her teachers and fellow students and seems to be making an adjustment to live normally.

Testifying scares her parents, but they are told if she doesn't, the accused might escape punishment or get a short sentence.  The father confronts the accused in prison and loses his composure  His daughter overhears him saying he would take care of the accused if the trial does not go right.  She does testify behind a partial screen.  The defendant still claims not to remember as he was too drunk (with Hope admitting he smelled of alcohol) and is sentenced to only 12 years.  The audience in the court is very offended realizing when Hope will barely be 20 when her rapist will be released.  The father actually tries to physically attack the accused in court, but his daughter stops him  by clinging to him while her mother collapses.

I have seen a few dozen Korean movies and have found many of them are very good and some even exceptional.  Many of them are very violent, but "Hope" is a little different.  The violence is hidden, and the core is a very compelling family drama.

The little girl, Lee Re is very good as Hope and Hae-suk Kim played her mother and had been in "The Thieves," (something like "Ocean 11, only more exciting).  The women who played the girl's fathers' s boss's wife, Mi-Ran Ra won awards as best supporting actress. A supporting actor, Song-ho Kim (who plays the father's boss and friend) appeared in one of the enjoyable ones I remember, "The Happy Life" where he was a drummer who with two other friends revived his high school band twenty years later.  "Hope" was directed by Joon-ik Lee who had done "The Happy Life" previously.

The music is in the background, but occasionally intriguing.  The composer, Jun-seok Bang has done a number of scores for movies I enjoyed including "The Thieves."  Part of the film was shot in Busan.

"Hope" is available on Netflix, and although it is one of those things you should do, it will be very difficult.  Most of you will appreciate that you are luckier than you imagined.  It does have a happy ending of sorts and we can all take some comfort.  A child rape has repercussions that effect many people for a long period of time.

My earlier experiences with Korean movies are mostly captured in I still find some new good ones and feel South Korea is a major film producer.

Friday, November 4, 2016


Many regard India as old fashioned, maybe even backward.  Gender attitudes are not considered modern in a Western sense.  "Pink" is a mind opening event for those of us who think we are "modern."  The movie drew a lot of attention being given a special screening for the Mumbai Police Department and has been used by politicians wanting to strengthen a new law. protecting women's rights.  This movie offers a lot of reasons to watch as it unravels mysteriously and dramatically, but it really is noteworthy for its message.

"Pink" is not so much about sexual assault, but more sexual harassment and gender equality.  The movie starts off with three women in the back seat of a car and three men in another car, one of whom has a bandage over his eye.  Soon we learn that one of the women had broken a bottle over the head of the bandaged man and the men felt entitled to revenge.  As the men are well connected they turn the tables claiming the girls had propositioned them and got violent when the men refused to pay.  The one woman, Minal is charged with attempted murder.

Some of the surrounding events were witnessed by a neighbor who it turns out is a retired lawyer on medication for a bi-polar condition.  His wife is bedridden.  He gives some advice to the women and later decides despite being on medication will represent them in court.  His first responses in court seem pathetic and we guess he must be too drugged.  However the court case becomes more intense with both prosecution and defense putting forth well prepared cases.

In a clever manner the defense lawyer strips away claims of provocation commonly used to defend sexual assaults:  the clothes she wore, her previous sexual experience, drinking alcohol and smiling in a friendly manner.

Amitabh Bachchan plays the retired lawyer.  My interest in Bollywood came after his hey day and he seemed to play a lot of unlikable characters, but I have since come to appreciate he is a great versatile actor who is always looking for good roles.  Amitabh in his 70's wants to keep active and appears in many movies and tv shows, but they aren't all masterpieces.  He is excellent in this role and helps boost the credibility of this film.  Read more about Abitabh

As the senior well established actor and with the initials A. B.,  Amitabh would normally be credited first, but in the interests of gender equality at his suggestion the three main actresses are listed first. They were all believable in difficult roles.  They were accused of being prostitutes and gold diggers, but in their words they were really "normal."  Tapsee Pannu was slightly more prominent and has been in a number of Bollywood movies and one Tamil film I had seen, but hadn't really noted her name.  Kirti Kulhari had a prominent role in a movie I enjoyed, "Shaitan."  Andrea Tariang was in her first movie.

Dhritimin Chatterjee plays the judge. He acted with Amitabh in still another excellent movie, "Black," and one of my favourites, "Kahaani."  Anglophones can see him in "The Man Who Knew Infinity."

Piyush Mishra plays a stern and tough prosecutor.  He is mostly a supporting actor and is very good.  I was surprised to learn he has also been a lyricist, a composer and a playback singer.  In an earlier favorite this year he played a storyteller in "Tamasha," an excellent movie about storytelling.  See

Directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdbury who mostly has been involved with Bengali films and helped write the script.  Ritesh Shah also helped write the script and had contributed to "Airlift", " Kahaani" and "Te3n"  He will be writing dialogue for "Kahanni 2," another movie on my list of movies that must be seen.

A very key person in developing this film and promoting it is Shoojit Sircar, listed as creative producer.  He was involved with the story line, costumes and arranging special screenings.  Earlier he directed two favorite movies of mine, "Vicky Donor" and "Piku."

The music from Shanatu Moitra is in the background.  I have come to love much of the music in Indian movies, but realize most Westerners think song and dance is not realistic.  India has cultivated a lot of excellent composers and musicians and for decades they focused on song and dance routines that to outsiders seem an intrusion for a story.  To some extent most sense that music enhances emotional feelings.  This movie has no song and dance routines, but music plays a role in setting a mood.  I have enjoyed movies with Shanatu Moitra  ("3 Idiots" is a classic as is "PK") actually bought one song from iTunes and remember a few other tunes.  Read about "PK"

New Delhi is the setting and it appears a stately city, but a strong criticism is implied.  Amitabh, himself suggested he wear a face mask in many scenes to direct attention to the pollution.

During the end credits, the filmmakers elected to show us what really happened at the critical moments.  No surprises, but the point was the exact details didn't matter.  The women should have had their word respected.  The timing was appropriate as the plot unraveled gradually while the message was being felt more directly.


At the end of the trial the defense lawyer is asked if he has a closing statement and he hesitates for awhile and you imagine he is under medication after all the stress, but finally he says "no" and then after another long pause goes on to say "No is a complete sentence" and 'No' means no."  He comments that any one who says "no" whether a girl friend, a wife or a sex worker should be respected.  In this version the accused is let off from a charge of attempted murder and the three men are charged with mischief.  It seems poetic justice and hopefully will be accepted by all society, whether in India, Canada, United States or elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Words are tools.  Choose the right ones in the right sequence and you may seem smarter than you really are, but be sloppy in choice of words and people may think you are a sloppy thinker.  Metaphors were supposed to be clever ways of expressing yourself.  Of course they can be that, but they are also much more.

Recently finished reading "I is an Other" by James Geary in my quest to understand how to use words better or at least fathom the process.  The title phrase comes from an aspiring young poet, Arthur Rimbaud who went onto a wide variety of accomplishments. such as a financier, arms dealer, explorer, anarchist.  It is supposed to embody the key to a metaphor.

Definition:  A metaphor is a figure of speech which makes an implicit, implied or hidden comparison between two things that are unrelated, but share some common characteristics.  They are used often unconsciously to make sense of something new or confusing.

Metaphors are basically combining a target with a source.  Comparisons to make the meaning more clear, although sometimes the connection is difficult.  A modern example is "email"--taking something without a name and comparing it to something we are familiar with.   An older one comes from Robert Hook after using primitive microscopes studying plants was the first to note the small pieces which reminded him of monk's cells and they became known as cells for no other reason.  C.S. Lewis points out the unknown can only be made known through metaphor and analogy.

Metaphors are human inventions that help us figure things out, i.e. advance civilization.  It is not restricted to any one language, but rather is universal.  Giambattista Vico from the 1700's in Naples noted that different languages described inanimate objects with human attributes such as lip of a pitcher, neck of a bottle, mouth of a river.  The effectiveness of a metaphor is not on the truth of the association, but on their easy accessibility

A metaphor can be like a joke with an unexpected twist and violated expectations

An identifier of an autistic person is they take words literally so often metaphors are frustrating for them.

In the U.S., football is often used metaphorically even by non fans.  Fumble an opportunity, kick-off, huddle, throw a Hail Mary.

An effective metaphor was used by Obama, "if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fists they will find an extended hand from us."

Judith Williamson pointed out that ads create objective correlations for mass consumption linking product to status, sex, wealth, intimacy and security.  Image trumps information.

Metaphors can be poor if the comparison is not apt--accused of being misleading (such as by sales people).  Or if they are too novel they can pass over the head of the recipient.

The author changes a common translation of the most famous philosophical statement by Descartes--"Cogito ergo sum" from "I think therefore I am" to "I shake things up therefore I am." Cogito originally meant to shake things up and can be considered a metaphor.

Read the book to get a fuller feel for metaphors or if you are a bit impatient try this 9 minute video of James Geary where he uses the great philosopher, Elvis Presley to make a few points.