Monday, October 29, 2018

FASCISM A Warning from Madeleine Albright

The former Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright has a history under fascism that she is reminded of under President Donald Trump.  The early sections on Mussolini and Hitler have many parallels to Trump.  Although she feels America can still redeem itself the warning should be taken seriously.  Her understanding, based on personal experience is well articulated.

The term Fascism has many interpretations, but includes authoritarianism and nationalism.  In modern times started by a small group in Italy after WWI who pledged to kill or die for Italy and adopted as a symbol elm rods bound together coupled with an axe called a fasces from Roman times.  Benito Mussolini a flamboyant speaker soon became their leader.

Mussolini originated the saying "drain the swamp."  To help consolidate his power he made deals with the Papacy and the monarchy.  By 1926 he was able to ban all competing political parties and even was able to control the Mafia.  Authority was emphasized over equality.  He started wars against Albania, Ethiopia ("the greatest colonial war in all history") and Libya.  In crowds he mocked foreign journalists.  He bragged about future growth, but had a poor understanding of economics.   He didn't trust advisors, instead relied on his instincts which he felt were superior

Hitler watched from afar admiring how Mussolini took control. He had been born in Austria but fought with the Bavarian army.  He was stunned by defeat and attributed it to Bolsheviks, bankers and Jews.  Hitler seized power in 1933 and required the army not to swear allegiance not to the country or to the constitution, but to him, Der Fuhrer.  He was pleased when foreigners criticized him as he visualized himself against outsiders.

Madeleine gives a little of her personal history.  She was a young girl when World War II broke out and her father was a diplomat for Czechoslovakia who fled to England to avoid the Nazis.  After the war he had been the ambassador to Yugoslavia, but her father sensed the Russian takeover in time to flee.  She explores several other parts of modern history including the Balkans, Venezuela, Turkey, Russia and Korea on a personal scale she had many of their leaders.

She had worked with the National Democratic Institute and involved herself with problems in the Philippines, Chile and South Africa.  In 2017 the United States was downgraded by the Economist's Democracy Index, not so much attributed to Donald Trump as a loss of confidence in institutions.  Too many citizens resented that the system seemed to protect the interests of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.  Madeleine feels "in a true democracy, leaders respect the will of the majority, but also the rights of the minority.  One without the other is not enough."

Democracy is helped by model leaders.  She mentions Abraham Lincoln in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.  Both men overcame lots of obstacles, but treated everyone fairly.

Madeleine is disturbed by some of Trump's words.  America first is not offensive in itself, but he projects a competitive atmosphere when there is great need for co-operation.  NATO should not be thought of as a business as it involves sharing training, intelligence and fighting.  Trust is critical.  His remarks against Muslims, allies and poor countries open up opportunities to enemies, especially China.  As most issues are complicated would be dictators offer simplifications.  Criticizing and insulting others appeals to those who feel aggrieved.  Avoid details that leave one open to attack.
Fascism is as easy as billionaires controlling the media, using influence to pick judges and restrict voting, shift public education to private and so forth.  Fascism can also come from leftist thinking.  Conservatives fear if the Liberals gain control they will discard the second amendment.

In concluding the book Madeleine suggests a series of questions that should have been asked of any candidate for president.  It appears not enough people asked Donald Trump or enough who listened for the answers.  Her warning should be heeded while it still possible to do something.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Municipal elections attract the least attention of the three levels of government.  Having participated in elections at all three levels I can say that in Hamilton, Ontario at least some things go smoother.  Yesterday I was deputy returning officer for the election for the city of Hamilton (Ontario).  At the end of the evening the actual vote count is known comparatively rapidly partly because they rely more on computers (but backed up by paper ballots).

Four years between municipal elections with a two hour training session plus manual to read.   One can get a little rusty.  I was asked to work at a by-election in another part of town (actually on what we call the Mountain), so that helped a little.  As I mentioned I have also worked at provincial and federal elections with many over lapping tasks, but each is also unique.

Patience is required.  Most voters do not understand the technical process.  As an example the returning officer is expected to check off a sequential number on one sheet and transfer it to the voter on the official list as one tool to help balance.  It is simple enough but when there is a long lineup and other problems pop up it might not get done properly.  Most voting is pretty regular and smooth, but there are lots of exceptions.

There is the voter who is not on the list.  There is the voter who is on the list, but unable to attend for a variety of reasons and assigns a proxy.  There are voters who do not speak English very well,  There is the voter who wants to make a change to their address, spelling of their name or their school support.  There is the voter who makes a mistake and wants a new ballot.  A few times I sent back a voter to get a form and they were anxious not to have to go back to the end of the line.  All this time we are required to maintain a level of privacy to each voter.

It is not always busy, in fact sometimes it is downright boring.  You eat and visit the washroom when you are able, but that is not always predictable.  Some bring a book or knitting. Of course talking to your fellow workers is normal, but you cannot talk politics.  It can be very tiring and balancing at the end of the evening can be very frustrating.

I have worked at half a dozen elections, but this was the first where I was really in my neighborhood.  I met neighbors from only a few doors away from mine.  The most unexpected encounter was a man who had a connection to my wife's family.  I recognized his name only because a relative had given me his aunt's maiden name when I worked on a family tree years ago.  It turned out this man was her brother.  Although we had been fairly close to this family, even more than just at Christmas we had gone our separate ways.  I learned a little about my wife's cousins. and that we are all more connected than we realize.

Municipal turnout is usually less than for the two higher level elections.  Residents in a town have more everyday contact with municipal services such as garbage, police, fire, parking, recreation facilities, snow plowing, street signs, etc.  A lot of higher level politicians have gotten their start at a local level, but at the time they are not nearly as well known.  Ironically it is possible to have an impact with a single vote, but somehow we are not engaged at the local level.

Checking over the results it is very common for someone to get elected with less than 50% of the vote.  Often there are some issues that create interest, but the winning factors seem to be related to how well connected a candidate is.  Incumbents have an advantage.  Any newcomer has to make an effort to draw attention.  In truth not that many people attend debates or other formal events.  Most newspaper descriptions are scant and superficial--everybody wants economic growth and better communication. 

The ideal is to get one candidate over 50%+1   Political parties deciding on who should lead their party mostly adopt that system.  The reason why is perhaps because they recognize that is the best way to have everyone accept the results and more importantly wiling to work as a team.  In many countries it is common to have a second election for a high office if the first does not result in 50%.  There is usually a time delay and of course expense.  Time delays can be important to get moving on ongoing projects, but perhaps a delay might be worth it to get the right decision makers in place.  Again expense is a concern, but admittedly democracy is expensive.

Elections have more credibility when more voters express their opinion (with the secret ballot), but it seems it is a difficult task to get everyone out.  Canadians have made it easier for voters at all levels to cast their ballots, but we still find it difficult to get out much more than half the eligible voters.  The reasons why are part of countless debates, but surely one problem is that many feel their vote won't make any difference in their everyday life.  Our first past the post system is one reason where in fact it is very common for the winner to have gotten less than half the votes. Politicians understand this and the clever ones with financial support certainly take advantage of it.  They end up representing you whether you voted for them or not.

Elsewhere I have advocated for a proportional system, but admittedly that works best when there is a well established party system.  Many people can be heard to say they vote for the person, not the party, but that is hard to believe.  At the local level it is often said that party politics don't belong.  One reason might be it is desirable to give individuals with convictions an opportunity to express them.  Inevitably party politics do factor into municipal elections, but there is still hope they can be minimal. Read more:

The idea of ranked voting is to get a decision that everyone can live with as soon as practical. When the winner might have less than 30% it seems unfair to dismiss the person who was only a small percentage behind with obviously other candidates factoring in.  As I understand one variation under a ranking system a voter can choose a second and third and even more candidates. If no one achieves 50%  the last place candidate is eliminated.  Their votes are transferred to their second choice.  If their second choice is eliminated then their votes are transferred to their third choice.  And so on until the goal of 50%+1 is reached.  A voter is not requited to rank everyone as it is recognized they might prefer a particular candidate be elected.

This can be much quicker and cheaper than going to a second round.  Voters have to decide ahead of time who might be an acceptable choice if their candidate doesn't go over the top.  No time for deals after the initial voting (unlike in political leadership conventions).  Some voters will see the advantage of researching the issues.  They might start off voting for someone who has indicated they favour a particular solution to a perceived problem or they might vote for someone they have some favorable awareness of.  But what happens when their first choice doesn't measure up?

A country, province/state or municipality work best when the population supports those elected to represent them.  Like many I believe a better solution lies with the system.  One good sign was that a number of voters brought their children so they could see the process.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


The CBC has a mandate to foster Canadian culture.  A great idea to boost interest in Canadian books has turned out to be Canada Reads on their radio network.  They recruit celebrities willing to make a commitment to read all the nominated books and prepare to debate with other very smart people. The book sponsors can really make a difference in a showbiz atmosphere, but they are great books and many listeners will be tempted by different books.

The facilitator host is also important.   It is entertaining and has evolved to be more slick and enticing.  The comedian Ali Hassan was in charge and did a good job of keeping the action moving.   The theme for this year was Open a book to open your eyes.  The show draws attention to Canadian books that has to be encouraging reading itself.

Obviously the winner benefits, but so do the losers (they really are winners to get this far).  Unlike other  years I had not read any of the nominated books, but after listening and watching the shows I felt the selection was good enough to follow up.  Previous years I ended up buying some books, one to my dog owning daughter, "Fifteen Dogs" and both of Laurence Hill's books that won--"The Book of Negroes" and"The Illegal."

The first one I read was "Precious Cargo"  It is non fiction and has a few insights into who writers work.  The author Craig Davidson had some minor success early on, but had squandered the opportunity.  He was dirt poor and desperate for work.  When watching the discussion on my computer and/or the radio I was struck by how the champion kept bringing up the importance of people seeing disabled people differently.  The book is written from the perspective of someone who grew up with normal prejudices and attitudes towards the disabled and how contact changed him.  Craig had changed names and altered descriptions, but his passengers had a variety of physical, mental and emotional disabilities that put them in the special needs categories.

Most of us shun visibly or otherwise known handicapped people when it is practical, not realizing that in addition to their disabilities they tend to be socially isolated.  The author doesn't shy away from their social problems.

Craig points out that the whole universe is made of the same elements just constantly being re-arranged and creating new humans.  Only a very slight change in the process results in diversity, but also "glitches."

Greg Johnson the advocate was very passionate and towards the end of the contest announced he was sending copies of "Precious Cargo" and also "Marrow Thieves" to some schools in Saskatchewan as he wants the books read.

Jeanne Beker, a fashion commentator championed  "Forgiveness" the eventual winner and my second read, both non-fiction.

Mark Sakamoto had an Scottish grandfather and a Japanese grandmother alive as he started the book.  His one Grandfather grew up in Magdalen Island and ended up as a soldier in Hong Kong in December of 1941.  His Grandmother, Mitsue was born in Vancouver, but when World War II started she and her family were deported to Alberta and forced to live in almost desperate style.  They each had plenty of reason to distrust the other.  The Scots-Canadian after his tortuous prison experience took comfort from a Bible and was focused on Mark 11:25 where forgivenss is high-lighted.

Those were models for the writer.  The real forgiveness came in his own life.  I was pleased to learn that he had worked for Michael Ignatieff,  Read a review of his recent book:

"American War" was championed by Tahmoh Penikett, an actor and martial artist, perhaps the most passionate advocate taking the book to the final two.  Tahmoh had been born in the Yukon with an indigenous mother.  Omar El Arkad, the author was born in Egypt and raised in Qatar.  Omar ended up in Canada as a journalist sent to a number of global hotspots. The book projects to 2065 and 2075 after environmental disasters and the second American civil war splits the nation. Some southern states refused to move away from fossil fuels.  What is United States had broken off into three nations and book is full of torture, drone bombings  redacted reports  reflecting back on current affairs.   In civil war situations one of the first dangers is a deterioration in trust.

"The Boat People" was championed by Mozdakh Jamalzadoh, herself a refugee from Afghanistan and as a singer invited to perform by Barrack Obama.. This book was eliminated first day in a very close vote. The other books each were voted to be ousted, but this one got two votes.  Based on a real incident, but the official records have been sealed.    In any civil war many people are forced to make difficult choices and staying neutral is difficult.  It is not so strange that many are desperate to get away.  I read a review in NY Times by Ru Freeman, herself from Sri Lanka that was not as favorable as my opinion.  I had read a good book of Freeman's a year or so ago and respect her opinion on other subjects.

The book reminded me of a time in my life (over ten years) when I worked with newspaper carriers, many of whom were from immigrant families.  In some cases the adults were dependent on their children as translators and in many cases were suspicious of outsiders.  I found many of the youngsters wanting to be more like their non immigrant friends.  It always seemed ironic to me that the parents had sacrificed to give their youngsters a chance at a new life and did their best to guide their children to what they thought was best while all too often their offspring were resentful. 

Another facet was the racism portrayed in the book.  I recall the Harper government demonstrating an undercurrent.  They refused to hold a government query into violence against indigenous women.  The events in the book reflect some of what I heard during the Tamil crisis plus more recently Syrians.  However an earlier conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney stood up for refugees against public pressure.

On the front page was an endorsement from Omar El Arkad, one of the other contestant authors.

A link to another Canada Reads book ("Forgivenss") was that one of the main characters had a family history with the Japanese internment during WW II.

An over riding theme was Truth vs. Fear.  No matter how logical the advocates for refugees are there is an emotional element (FEAR) that is difficult to overcome.  A memorable quote, "Were these people dangerous?  That was the million dollar question."

Refugees are a global crisis and Canada has not always been as generous as we would like to assume. I have had some personal contact with Hungarian, and Vietnamese refugees.  The world is very turbulent with warring factions and ever developing climate change/

Jully Black, a singer I listen to championed "Marrow Thieves"  Written by Cherie Dimaline who is of Metis background living in the Georgian Bay area.  The book had won awards in the Young Adult category which surprised me.  Focus in a future after environmental disaster.  As material comforts disappear one item left is dreams, but only with indigenous people who flee to northern Ontario.   The dreams reside in their marrow.  Much of the story takes place near Espanola, Ontario.  Jully is sensitive to racial issues and was able to make a few points.

Next year I will try to get ahead of the game.  There is also a French version, but that might be too much of a challenge.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Cristian Mongiu, filmaker from Romania

Cristian Mongiu grew up in a Communist dictatorship with a fully developed secret police.  He managed to avoid military service by continuing his education, graduating with a degree in English literature.  He is fluent in English, French and his native Romanian.  He had little access to films in theatres, but in the 1980's with VCR he watched and shared many movies, even helping to translate some of them.  Like many Romanians he was aware of events in Europe mainly through Radio Free Europe, but was caught off guard by the 1989 Romanian Revolution.  He was in journalism at the time which underwent dramatic changes as the censor regime collapsed.

In the 1990's he decided to go to a film school.  There were no actual copies of most of the movies they were studying.  He felt his knowledge of films was very little when he graduated in 1998.

In 2003 Cristian formed Mobra Films with Oleg Motu and Hanno Hofer.  Hanno Hofer was a composer who did the music for two of Cristian's movies.  Oleg Motu was a cinematographer who supervised the camera work for many of Cristian's movies and had won some international awards.

"Occident" (2002) was Cristian's first film as director and writer.   It was a comedy about Romanian society.  It was nominated for the Cannes Film Festival.

"4 Months 3 weeks and 2 days" (2007) won the Palme d'or  (plus two other awards) at Cannes, but when it came to the Oscars it failed to make the short list.  This upset authorities and they instituted new rules.  Very emotional topic--abortion, specifically an illegal abortion.  It is not likely to change the opinion of many,   In Romania of 1987 abortion would result in a prison sentence or even worse.  We don't know the background but one room mate wants an abortion and the other agrees to help.  Somehow they contacted an illegal abortionist and soon find themselves being manipulated by him for more money.  They are already near the end of their resources, but push further.

 What shocks viewers is an explicit replica of a fetus with some recognizable human features being dumped.  It is only for a few seconds, but lets viewers know a life is lost.

Vlad Ivanov who plays the tough abortionist went on to act in "Graduation." and "Tales from the Golden Age" with Cristian.  Two other noteworthy Romanian film for him was "Police, Adjective" (2009 directed by Cornelius Pormboiu))  and "Child's Pose" (2010  directed by Calin Peter Netza) with  each winning two awards at Cannes He went on to an international career with  "Whistleblower" (2010),  "SnowPiercer" (20130 and "Toni Erdman" (2016).

Another actor, Alexandru Potocean was also in "Whistleblower"  Another international film for him was "The Way Back." (2010)/

"Tales from a Golden Age"  (2009) was written by Cristian, but used several directors for different segments.   Broken down to a number of short stories each of which highlights as aspect under Communist rule from a satirical perspective.  Among other motives it seems Cristian used his international fame to leverage more respect for Romanian film makers.  PHOTO

"Beyond the Hills" (2012) was originally inspired by an incident in a monastery, but it was decided to develop another story line.  It has been criticized as being anti-religious, but it is dealing with deep human emotions. The priest as portrayed as a honest man striving to do the right thing.  What drew the director/writer was the exorcism that resulted in a death.

This film won for Cristian, the best script award at Cannes and best actress for Cristina Flutar.

Cristian had to seek more money and with that as he puts it, you get more "opinions."  Noteworthy with this movie he included the two Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and they also helped with "Graduation."

The DVD came with an interesting second disc with special features.  Sitting in a comfortable chair or couch and being entertained for about two hours one is not really conscious of all the work that goes into a film.  It started based on an actual event, but Cristian decided to not follow too exactly.  He did try to duplicate the landscape and buildings which required a long period of building so much that rehearsals started while construction was still in progress.  The film was set partly in winter which meant waiting for snow, but then they had planned to work through heavy weather but found that the cold was difficult.  He also demonstrated some of the details of adjustments.

Valeriu Andriuta  had appeared in "Occident" and while planning this film Cristian not quite willing to make a commitment was looking for Valeriu's type to play the priest.  The catch was he wanted the priest to have a traditional beard.  He had not seen Valeriu for several years as he had moved to Ireland and not been involved with acting.  Over the phone he asked Valeriu if had a beard and ironically he had until the day before when he had shaved it off.  Without a commitment he agreed to start growing one.  In the end he played a very convincing priest.  Valeriu also appeared in "Graduation" in a bit role.

"Graduation" (2016) dealt a lot with corruption, but Cristian indicates that the underlying theme is to do with parenting.  In society parents need to educate their children to the realities.  In Romania there is level of corruption that affects everyone. "We all complain in Romania about the level of corruption without understanding that we are responsible for it."  

It came out that Mongiu believes in many takes.  He explains that he is trying to maintain a precise emotion.  He invites the editor to the filming as part of the process.

At a forum (from special features) Cristian expressed concerns that there aren't enough theatres in Romania, large numbers having been closed.  He wanted to debut his film at the same tie as shown for the Cannes festival, but couldn't. He also felt viewers needed to be better educated to appreciate films that aren't "popular." Earlier" 4 months 3 weeks 2 days" was put on a tour.  The number of theatres has gradually increased, but Critsian still feels most Romanians see films as only entertainment whereas he feels they also can be more

In addition to writing, directing and directing his own films Cristian has produced  other films and television shows. Most recently a producer for a German-Romanian series, "Hackerville" (2018).

In response to a question at Cannes Cristian explained that there is always a story behind the action in the film.  We never exactly know what brought the characters to where we first see them.  He feels everyone is limited in their choices by their upbringing and education. 

Cristian, a frequent visitor to Cannes felt that Cannes helps to preserve smaller movies,(not the more popular blockbusters).  The world benefits from more diversity.

Romania is yet another country that offers the world worthy films.  Although Cristian is pre eminent he is not the only one and is supported by actors and technical people.