Sunday, April 29, 2018


At a time when attitudes are changing, the refugee "problem" is intensifying

Albert Einstein, a refugee from Nazi Germany founded the IRC, International Refugee Committee.  Today the CEO and President is David Miliband, formerly a prominent British politician.  This book is one of his efforts to boost awareness of a serious refugee problem.

Most Americans are vaguely aware of troubles in the Middle East, Africa and Myanmar, but feel it is a problem for somebody else.  It has intruded more in Europe where there is resistance.   In the Mid East and Africa are the majority of refugees living under relatively poor conditions.

Refugees are visualized living in camps, but the majority live in urban settings.  About half of primary age children are not in school.  H. G. Wells once said, "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."  Lack of education breeds bigotry and poor choices.

There is a great deal of hatred focused at Muslims.  Christopher de Baillaigue is quoted, "Islam is no settled entity  It has burst its banks and seethes  with discontent and desires that are immediately recognizable as the consequences of a painful engagement with modernity."  It is suggested that Americans need to support moderate Muslims while crackdowns make the process more difficult.

An earlier blog on refugees:

Terrorism is intended to create fear.  It has worked in the west as we have twisted the refugees fleeing terrorism for the terrorists.  Trump campaigning for  president appealed to bigoted attitudes and once elected almost right away took steps that inflamed tension.  Muslims resent being depicted as dangerous radicals.  It was pointed out recently that the Americans need the co-operation of Muslims to deal with terrorists.  Muslims  are being told that Americans hate them and cannot be trusted.  At the same time Americans are resented because they help prop up corrupt regimes.

Much of the refugee crisis could be blamed on big power politics.  Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and Americans had been told there were no weapons of mass destruction.  Nonetheless Iraq was invaded with disastrous results and it could be argued aggravated the situation with Syria.  Afghanistan needed a political solution, but no one wanted to be thought soft on terrorists.

Eli Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, for his 1968 Nobel Peace Prize speech pointed out that victims of political repression depend on the way we use our freedom to make a difference to them.   "The quality of our freedom depends on theirs."  Pope Francis said, "Neglect of refugees is evidence of globalization of indifference."  John F Kennedy called for a "declaration of interdependence."

Excuses for not supporting refugees  are wearing thin.  Charity does starts at home, but it shouldn't end there and we should realize we are all inter connected.   Refugees are fleeing terrorism and if properly integrated are a bulwark against terrorism.  Most refugees are hosted by poor countries that find their resources very stretched.  Germany has stepped up, perhaps because they realize the refugees will help stem a labour shortage.

Political stresses seem likely to be maintained, but another somewhat intertwined factor is climate change.  Syria suffered from a severe drought that forced migration from rural areas to urban and aggravated already established stresses.  Already many residential islands are threatened with rising sea levels.

Miliband acknowledges there is danger in accepting refugees carelessly.  Procedures need to be followed and vetting is critical.

Learned of this book watching David Miliband guest with Fareed Zakaria.

What can you do?  David has a few suggestions.  Refugees need local knowledge.  Practicing language skills.  Get to know them.  I would add don't vote for bigots who have no long term vision.

An excellent TED talk by David is here:

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Ordinary Virtues

Canada lost a superior statesman when it rejected Michael Ignatifieff. Conservative tactics to demean Ignatieff were despicable.  I am pleased to know his intellect is not being wasted

Michael was in a discussion with Joel Rosenthal regarding celebrating the centennial of the Church Peace Union, a group that had been founded by Andrew Carnegie.  From their discussion came the idea for the Carnegie Centennial Project which essentially is a global study of ethics in action.  This book is the culmination of that effort.

The world has changed drastically.  Diversity is showing up in more and more global cities.  Each group feels an affinity for its own kind, but are forced to work, study etc with others.  There is a lot of self segregation. 

This book is focused on human rights and the ongoing struggle to boost them.  There is a battle on one side of which are poor institutions and human vices.  Opposing that are ordinary virtues.

So what are "ordinary virtues'?  Ignatieff designates tolerance, forgiveness, trust and resilience.  May be ordinary, but necessary if we are to survive as a planet.  In many places different people live side by side, but the ideal would be to live together.

Corruption, a most serious problem--police corruption--many accept corruption if they feel they get something in return.  An earlier blog  explores a little more deeply:

Michael and other members of the project travel to cities of interest around the world.  As they travel to different cities with their unique perspective Ignatieff ties their concerns to the ordinary virtues.

Jackson Heights in Queens, New York is one of the most diversified areas in the world- and close to the Carnegie Foundation.  side by side vs together  --policing is absolutely necessary for a moral economy of a global city--one concern is that NY police have infiltrated local mosques--on the other hand New York considers itself a sanctuary city along with Los Angeles and Portland that offers a municipal ID allowing all citizens to open bank accounts and make loans

Immigrants are often conned, but they need to learn to trust strangers.  The internet, tv and cell phones enable most newcomers to maintain ties with the old country.  Politicians court them but this often entails them becoming interwined with old world politics.

Los Angeles  was the scene of the Rodney King riot.  It uncovered tensions between whites and blacks,  but also Koreans felt discriminated against. They are slowly developing stronger ties between the races also including Mexicans and Central Americans.

Brazil was visited before the Olympics.  They spent time in the infamous favelas where poverty and corruption go hand in hand.  There were efforts to form consent based community police that were able to deal with drug dealers. Unfortunately Brazil seems enmeshed in corruption, but there are groups fighting the corruption.

Bosnia was part of the former Yugoslavia.  When the Iron Curtain broke down it opened a lot of hatreds.  Bosnians were mostly Muslim and surrounded by Serbians and Croatians.  neighbors turned on each other in ethnic conflict.  After peace declared and borders established there is a serious lack of trust.

Myanmar has been in the news regarding the Rohinga expulsion.  Igntieff spoke with some extremist Buddhists who wanted a pure country.  Aung Sun Suu Kyi, once admired around the world is now vilified for her lack of protest.  Ignatieff goes below the surface to point out that good ideas cannot be implemented with out institutional and individual support. She is inside a political situation that is unwilling to compromise.

Fundamentalists offer uncompromising answers to the existential question of national identify.  when democracy comes majority rule is integral and that often goes against the human rights of minority groups.

Fukushino had an unimaginable disaster, three catastrophic events compounding one another.--earthquake, nuclear plant meltdown and tsunami.  It tests people's trust  in institutions that failed to predict this possibility.  Ignatieff is encouraged by the resilience of the Japanese

South Africa-most blacks notice little change--blame white privilege and would like to see a redistribution of land--real problem is there are not enough jobs to go around.  Mandela knew Africa needed the whites to stay and help South Africa to grow and to gain their co-operation in a new South African constitution he needed to include their concerns.  The different black and Asian groups feel they have suffered enough.  In the news as I write this is a movement to redistribute land owned by whites to blacks.

There are many competing global perspectives, but Ignatieff feels we need to recognize those who want to dialogue.  We need to tolerate those who see things differently.  Judge people one at a time instead of as part of another group.

Ignatieff feels the ordinary virtues can thrive with support from institutions.  People have to be alert to the ever present danger of corruptions.  My feeling is he is advocating that a mutual support system is needed.  We, at all levels need to encourage the ordinary virtues which in turn will help maintain legitimate institutions that work for the benefit of everyone.  Ultimately for humans to survive we have to work together, not just side by side.

Jared Diamond wrote "The World Until Yesterday" that illustrates perspectives of primitive people that I believe demonstrate humans have always had similar problems.  You will find my take on it on the  bottom half of

He is a man with a truly global view that needs to be shared.  An earlier blog about Michael Ignatieff: 

Sunday, April 15, 2018


The reaction encountered most often when mentioning that I like Bollywood films is that there must be something wrong with me.  Of course this is just a perception, but it is felt.  At one time I shared this attitude but it became even more relevantt  as I still looked at Bollywood comedies as beneath me.  I enjoyed some humour in more serious movies and in romantic comedies.  I even enjoyed bits of Bollywood comedies, but found too much "over the top."

One of the examples of over the top seemed to be Anupam Kher, until I got to appreciate him in serious movies. He has had a lot of supporting roles in English speaking movies ("Silver Linings Playbook," "The Big Sick" "Bend it Like Beckham" etc).  You can read my blog on him and see a little of my earlier attitude,

The big breakthrough for me was a movie called "Kal Ho Naa Ho"   It had a great buildup and I had developed a liking for Shah Rukh Khan.  When I put it through the library checkout the checker commented that it was a very sad movie.  When I started watching, my first experience was that it was pretty juvenile--corny jokes until the second half when the mood changed dramatically and I have since felt that I was being set up.  In the end I found it to be very sad, profoundly moving and I almost felt ashamed for feeling the main character Shah Rukh Khan was so shallow. The stereotypical  humour made the contrast so much more stark.  I became a fan and accepted that along with the dramatic a little corny humour serves a purpose.   Successful theatre caters to what Shakespeare students called "the peanut gallery." Shah Rukh Khan is my favorite actor and you can read about it at:

Early on it was explained that going to movies in India was a family affair.  Young children, parents and the grandparents would go together--entertainment had to offer somethings for the kids (or they would become unruly), something for the adults  and something for older women.  The situation has changed with couples dating at movies or groups of students socializing.

"Chalo Dilli" was seen mainly as a time killer, not profound or artistic.  It followed a familiar pattern with a relatively sophisticated person paired with someone more crude and unaware of how they are perceived.  After a series of incidents the plot leads to them appreciating one another as relatively equal humans.  The initial contrast was pretty stark with a sophisticated Lara Dutta and Vinay Pathak playing the role of a crude bumpkin.  There was a twist at the end that made it more poignant.  Despite many almost slapstick moments the change in the characters was well done.

The best remembered comedies have some sort of social meaning and this is no exception. The two main characters are constantly running into problems--missed flight, car breakdown, gangster intimidation, stolen money.   The Vinay character breaks it down in steps to "it's no big deal"--while each event seems catastrophic.  Lara's character undergoes a few changes, but often only temporarily.  Vinay is crude (not vulgar) and that alone makes it difficult to accept.--at one point Vinay says that instead of crying he laughs.

Vinay Pathak was one I associated with crude comedies, but looking over his movie list I have enjoyed a number of his efforts.  In his first movie, "Fire," he had a very minor role in a movie directed by Canada's Deepa Mehta.  It was very controversial in India as it portrayed a lesbian relationship.  He later had roles in two other Mehta pictures, "Water" and Midnight's Children."  I watched him in "Dasvidaniya," where he played a man wanting to do a simple bucket list as he knew he was dying.  He had a strong supporting role in "Manoram Six Feet Under" a murder thriller.   He played another strong supporting role with Shah Rukh Khan in "Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi."  In " Bhejja 2" boisterous clumsy--tying up a tax inspector with a tax evader has comic potential.

"Bheja Fry" in 2007 earned him a best actor in comedy role.  (India breaks down acting awards to include both comedy and negative roles)  Beja Fry stands for "fried brain."  A sequel, "Bheja Fry2" did not get as good reviews, but set in motion for the upcoming "Bheja Fry3"

His starring roles have mostly been comedic.  He is nothing like a leading romancer,  Instead he is more ordinary, but as an actor he is versatile.

Lara Dutta a former Miss Universe who also happened to claim the highest intelligence of contestants.   In the movie she plays a beautiful, sophisticated, somewhat arrogant executive, but she does gradually modify her attitudes.   She is listed as a producer along with her husband.

Akshay Kumar has a bit role, but done well  Plays husband of Lara Dutta and is very understanding.  I am gradually warming up to him as he has taken on a number of socially relevant roles while still maintaining leading man status.

Arshad Sayed, the writer worked on "Davidaniya," "Hum Tum aur Ghost" and also on some prolific tv series.

Shashant Shah, the director has also worked on "Davidaniya" which he also produced

An enjoyable comedy I had seen just before was "Phas Gaye re Obama" with Rajat Kapoor, a frequent co-star with Vinay  (you can also see him the background of the Bheja Fry poster). It had some clever plotting and a social message.  It was about kidnapping rich people, but in this case Rajat had returned to sell some property to cover his overwhelming indebtedness.  Still he was able to con a series of kidnappers  "I have an idea" repeated after each setback .

Actors like Vinay Pathak and Anupam Kher have to be versatile and especially in their early careers accept any reasonable role they can latch onto.  As time goes by other opportunities will open up.

Many times I feel the world is absurd.  Why not laugh?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Devil in the White City

This book was suggested to me by fellow worker Susan Rozich Brinkmann.  Again, there are more good books (but also a lot not so good) than you have time to read so it is wise to listen to suggestions.

The story is told in two parallel narratives.  One part revolves around the background and efforts to present a World's Fair to help promote the city of Chicago.  The other part tells about a con man and serial killer operating in the same city. at the same time.  There is a relationship between the two stories, but they could have been fascinating as two separate tales.  Erik Larson, the author blends the two together to tell a compelling story hard to put down.

In 1890 the U.S. Congress decided there should be a major exhibition to commemorate the 400th year of Columbus discovering America.  New York would have been a favorite, but other cities campaigned.  Chicago wanting to prove themselves were able to manoeuvre through the politics and were awarded the Columbia Exposition and had now to put everything together or look incompetent.

The narrative around the fair was told mostly from the perspective of architects.  Architecture was labeled "frozen music" by Schelling and Goethe.  Chicago was an upstart city in many ways.  At a central location they developed a reputation for slaughterhouses (but also for grain commodities) and many were anxious to upgrade their perception.  Chicago became first in skyscrapers with the building of the Montauk Block.  In spite of the soil that sank easily.  John Root had developed a way called "grilling" that allowed buildings to be taller despite soft dirt.

As the second biggest city in America Chicago felt a rivalry with New York.   Paris had held a previous international exposition with the stunning Eiffel Tower still remembered.   Architects were key.   Daniel Burnham had partnered with John Root and had been asked to head up the construction effort.  Burnham, sensitive to outside criticism offered the prime architect projects to  5 easterners with $10,000 plus artistic freedom, but diplomatically added some Chicago area architects as consultants.  He decided because he was supervising the architecture he would not take on any project for himself.  Before the fair opened his partner John Root died unexpectedly putting a greater burden on Burnham.

Frederick Olmstead, who had had worked on New York's Central Park was brought in for landscape architecture.  There were some landscape architect students on my floor at university so I had an inkling it was more serious than planting a few bushes and flowers.  Although the process didn't work out to his standards due to weather, budget and other commitments his work did impact the impression created for the fair.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West show wanted to be part of the Fair, but were rebuffed.  Instead they set up adjacent to the Fair and drew a big crowd on their own.  Towards the end some of their efforts were integrated with the fair.  Undoubtedly they helped draw more people to Chicago.

The author to build suspense had a strategy of giving hints, but avoids mentioning the name of the engineer who came up with the most memorable event at the Fair.  It was rejected at least three times in which the reasons were discussed but the inventor's name was suppressed.  I had my suspicions and at one point looked for the likely name of the inventor and sure enough did find it in the index.  I noticed the page reference was to some I had already read.  It was a big deal and comparable to the Eiffel Tower so I will allow the author to have his little fun, but tell you the inventor's name is mentioned just before half way through the book.

When the fair opened many of the buildings and exhibits were not ready.  Many people it turned out were waiting not only for more parts to be completed, but to avoid the hot humid Chicago summer.

At one point the fair's attendance was below the necessary profitable numbers.  The organizers tried to speed up the many unfinished aspects.  Promotional events were increased.  One obstacle was a the Salbatarian movement that forced the fair to close on Sundays, the one day available for labourers.  There was also concern about rail fares and a lot of negotiation were made to get them alleviated.  The fair offered a lot of enticements.  The architecture was spectacular.  It demonstrated the first zipper, Cracker Jacks, Shredded Wheat, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, new forms of electrical lighting.   I am leaving out a new ride that became very popular up to modern times as well as other innovative rides.  Towards the end the fair did attract the needed crowds.

H. H. Holmes, originally Herman Webster Mudgett was a smooth talking man who made others feel comfortable and trusting.  In reality he was a con man.  He was also a serial killer.  His connection to the fair was basically that he thought it would attract tourists.  He took people there to impress them.  His nefarious activities were not uncovered until after the fair was over.  It was realized he married or pretended to marry a number of women and killed them.  Not merely kill them and others, but sometimes go through a procedure, called articulation to render them as skeletons and sell them to medical practitioners.  He managed to avoid paying many bills by falsifying his name, but mostly he was such a good talker that he could gain sympathy from those he had conned.  Another one of his tactics was to buy insurance for buildings or other people and either burn or kill to make a claim.  Insurance investigators were the first to start uncovering his foul deeds.

As many clever killers like to do, after he was caught he bragged.  He claimed to have killed 27 people, although it turns out not all of them were actually killed.  On the other hand many credit him with many more murders.

The fair did leave a legacy.  Aside from the many new products and concepts introduced a few people were inspired by the efforts.  Frank Lloyd Wright started his career in Chicago and went on to become one of the most famous architects in American history.  L. Frank Bauman took some of his inspiration for The Wizard of Oz from the amazing fair.  Walt Disney's father, Elias helped build the White City and likely encouraged his son to want to build his own exhibition.

The task given to Burnham might be compared to organizing the Olympics.  No one person can handle all the details, but one person must take responsibility to make sure the details are taken care of.  This is a good read and will help one to understand the complexities required to make a successful event.