Sunday, November 29, 2020

Essential Services and the Pandemic

The recent American Supreme Court ruling allowing mass indoor religious services has prompted this examination of what is essential. As this is being written a vaccine seems on the horizon and people are increasingly Covid fatigued 

Total lockdown is not possible or practical.  Humans need food, access to health care and much more to survive and be happy.  We also need social contact.  If all work were to stop, a lot of things are lost.  Consumers would be deprived of the goods they have taken for granted.  Workers of course would lose income.  Another seldom thought concern is what will the workers do with all that free time (and restricted in many of their favored activities)?  A big concern has to be the circulation of money to all levels of citizens, the rich and more importantly the not rich and poor.

I agree with some of the reasoning of the Supreme Court justices but it boils down to what is essential.  Supposedly we could not survive with out some goods and the supporting services.  Every jurisdiction has some control of how essential are defined and controlled.

No body could argue against food, but some "food" is not really essential, but we are addicted to unhealthy foods    Food is truly essential.  The production to some extent relies on imported labour, some of which is illegal and the same may be said of processing.  For most consumers it is the distribution that is the final link.  Maybe we will come to better appreciate the contributions of our rural cousins.  Consider

Medical services are truly a front line essential service.  We put them at daily risk and too many of us ignore their advice.  They need as much protective equipment as society can provide and should be first in line for the upcoming vaccines.

Is liquor necessary?  I would say that politicians know that is one area that would run up against strong resistance.  Prohibition taught us that.  Likely the majority of legislators like to drink from time to time.  So the problem is if they push too hard people will cut around the barriers and lose respect for the law.  Another concern is that alcohol can be linked to increased domestic violence.

Religious services have always been an important part of life for many people.  They see rules bending towards commercial interests as hypocritical.  Those with religious conviction find comfort in their faith.  While others seek solace in alcohol, pornography, overeating, etc. etc. they gain personal strength from their beliefs and yes, their rituals.  For any version of lockdown to work society needs to co-operation of all.  

Schools are critical to our future, but it turns out they are also important to our current economy  Trump's first pleas brought up a reality.  Workers (especially women) cannot work if their children are not being cared for.  The long term view is a country cannot advance without education.  Online has stepped up, but we are finding it requires a commitment from students and their parents that cannot be taken for granted.  Many households do not have access to online learning and that can lead to more inequality.  Children also need social contact and the lack of it in early ages can have unhealthy repercussions for the future.

My son in New Zealand at one time was asked to come in to class to teach the children of essential workers; a recognition of the value of the babysitting process.  New Zealand did get a much better handle on the pandemic and schooling is almost normal as I write this.  A lesson to the rest of the world as their students will have a relative advantage as a result of an early response to the pandemic.

Libraries are one of my crutches to keep my sanity.  I have read a few e-books, watch television including Netflix, but personally love an even wider selection of entertainment (and education) and can appreciate that for some people that is where many get access to computers and even books, DVDs, etc. The library is both a source of information tools, but also a source of entertainment.   Hours have been restricted, borrowing times extended, masks required, cards photoed for contact info.  Would add that some volunteer work I did helping immigrants practice their English has been cut for the time being.

A lot of commercial activity is stalled.  However computer connections have allowed much to carry on.   This is fortunate for those in a position to carry on, but accentuates the differences for those who are not able to carry on or are forced to curtail their normal way of working. 

We can see and evaluate a wide range of responses.  Earlier and tighter strategies work better.  Trump seemed to feel a stalled economy would be bad for his election prospects, but overlooked his strategies have led to worst consequences and we, the whole world will have a bigger mess to clean up.  It might be dangerous to defer to any authority, but it makes sense to rely on scientific medical advice and more people would likely co-operate.  Politicians whose judgment is critical can either encourage compliance or complicate co-operation.  It is their responsibility to draw a balance between human needs and medical necessities. 

During this time an unusual set of circumstances had a personal connection.  My wife had a very close relationship with a woman friend, Helen who developed cancer in a life threatening manner.  Helen had a daughter, Janet in Florida who was also very concerned and spent time in Canada, undergoing a quarantine.  The cancer was relentless and she could foresee she might miss her family (a daughter, Kristen and son in law Rob) and so arranged for them to come up and go through a quarantine.  One big concern was that meant they would be here for several weeks and Rob had a job.  He was an engineer, but did most of his work already online.  He was able to get access to the necessary specialized equipment to his work from. Ontario.  Unfortunately all the efforts and sacrifices of the Floridians and my wife were to no avail and Janet had to prepare for a memorial celebration.  Helen had accumulated a lot of friends in her life and it must have been difficult to include some and not open up for others.  The venue selected could combine indoor and outdoor, required masks and temperature checks at the door  encouraged social distancing to a small number of people and as a sort of visitor page we were directed to a contact page.   My daughter, Heather had also had a close relation with Helen and although she is vulnerable because of MS she attended.  The border crossings were a little more cumbersome than usual, but allowed some critical people to cross over to give comfort to Helen.

The future will be very different.  More of us have become comfortable with online shopping and that requires fewer labourers and entrepreneurs, fewer commuting networks and less brick and mortar infrastructure.  These trends have been in progress, but we can expect an acceleration that will cause significant disruptions for many.   Perhaps these trends will tie in well with our upcoming campaign with climate change.  It is hoped that more people will recognize the value of co-operative and understand that we are truly in this and other global issues together.  Inequality will be a challenge as automation will  result in fewer jobs as we know them.    

An earlier blog dealt with the future offered by automation, both dangers and opportunities.  The pandemic with its hygenic issues and displacement of work/leisure habits will accelerate the matter.  If these issues concern you please read: and get back with your thoughts and we can create a sort of forum.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020


We have just lived through an election where over 72 million Americans voted for Trump who is considered by many to be a racist.  For some his appeal is said to be that whites feel threatened by the increasing demographics and influence of minorities.  African Americans are seen as inferior beings--the inferiority may be difficult for some to pin down, but they are convinced.

 The reality is African Americans have been around for centuries and have contributed to the wealth of European settlers all over North and South America.   One group wanting to preserve the heritage of slavery was Diving with a Purpose formed by African American divers who had been asked to help with an archaeological project and have expanded their range and members---including training.  o explore sunken ships that proved the presence and treatment of captured Africans.

How did slavery as we know it begin?  The film said Portugal was responsible and brought up the name Henry the Navigator.  Checking further I learned that Prince Henry was neither a navigator or a sailor, but had sponsored many sea expeditions.  He set up a navigation school near Lagos in Portugal.  By 1418 his ships had reached Madeira (where Madeira wine comes from) and by his death the Portuguese reached as far as modern day Sierra Leone.  He sponsored expeditions that captured Africans and brought them back to Portugal.  One of captives was able to negotiate his return in exchange for offering more Africans.  The Portuguese became more involved in slavery originally based in Lagos.  Brazil was the destination for most enslaved Africans with the port of entry being Rio de Janeiro.

What drove slavery?  One example comes when you follow the money.  Tea and coffee tended to be bitter and required sugar to sweeten.  Calculating the cost of sugar and the cost of  slaves.  Indigenous were used first, but died from European diseases.  A good book explaining how slave power increased wealth is "The Half Has Never Been Told."  American capitalism, including banks as well as landowners and manufacturers was boosted very significantly by slavery and I would add stolen land from the indigenous.  More details at:

Samuel L. Jackson adds his presence attracting more attention even from non blacks.  He acgs as an executive producer, but also an interviewer of different experts.  He presented a painted  a portrait that included Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of Captain Sir John Lindsay and a slave.  She was educated and apparently had some small influence in the slow process of abolishing slavery through her Great Uncle, Lord Mansfield and later her husband John Davinier.

The film uncovers many episodes that reveal the hardships of the Africans and the perfidy of many Europeans.  I hope to whet your appetite with a few instances.

In Surinam a Dutch ship, Leusdon missed a turn 1737 and in the end barricaded all the slaves on board and sunk the ship to their deaths.  From further exploration we learn more about the price of sugar.  We are shown a machine that cuts sugar cane and learn that a slave sometimes would get his hand stuck in a machine pressing down on the stallks.  When that happened the solution was to chop off the hand so the machine could continue the sugar process.

Bristol, England profited from the slave trade with one family of Edward Colston became very wealthy.  A modern day survey of Bristol reveals many prominent businesses under the Colston name including a large statue honoring him.

Shipwrecks were usually covered by insurance who considered the risks worth it.  Sometimes ship threw slaves overboard to save supplies.  In one case slaves were treated like horses (commodity) It was suspected that some traders concluded they could make money easier from insurance than actually selling the slaves  and of course insurance companies were more careful and did not always pay if fraud could be proved

Shipwrecks drove some African slaves to Costa Rica  and after escaping they mixed with indigenous natives.  A Danish scholar traces some Danish slave boats and found one wrecked off the coast.,    Divers were able to find Danish dinnerware and to meet some of the natives in the area who had mixed blood.

Another episode pointed out that from Jamaica some escaped slaves were able to join pirates where they received an equal share of booty.    Reggae music originated in Jamaica as protest songs and have spread around the world--I listen to a group in New Zealand.  

From some recovered materials from shipwrecks we learn about Fractals which are art designs from Africa sparked the idea of binary codes which is the basis for modern computers.

The Africans did not all passively accept their kidnapping.  One segment showed specialized chains (manufactured in England )and ship designs to control them.  We learn of ship rebellions with some being  sailed back to Africa.  Amistad rebellion of 1839 was settled in an American court after captives had overturned a Spanish crew in Cuba and had been taken advantage of by Spanish sailors who had sailed to the Long Island area.  They were taken to court, but defended by former president John Quincey Adams and in 1841 sailed back to Sierra Leone.   Many others died fighting and still other committed suicide. 

The Underground Railroad was covered with some history of Harriet Tubman who really does deserve her spot on a $5 dollar bill.  .Noted that she helped some escaped slaves settle to the St. Catharines area about half an hour from where I write this.  There were many connections along the Great Lakes ships with abolitionists, including Lake Michigan.  The Welland Canal was Canadian on both sides which American ships normally went through to go from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. 

One interesting result of the Underground Railroad wast hat the ancestors of Ferguson Jenkns, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher had fled to the Chatham area (Blenheim) from crossing at Amherstberg.  

Gospel songs were written to help direct slaves.  "Wade through the water" was meant to convey to escapees that they should go through water to throw off the scents of dogs.  Others pointed to the north and some for specific landmarks.  The Banjo was developed by African slaves, but attracted the attention of whites who played the instrument using blackface for the first time.

Abolition was slow in coming.  Most citizens had little idea of the role of African slaves to their economy or of the suffering they underwent.   Some people were aware in England.  Public support diminished after  newspaper campaigns with engravings cartoons.  The slave trade was officially  ended in 1807, but it was not until 1833 that slavery was abolished in all territories controlled by the English, but only after a huge amount was given to slave owners that apparently the loan was not recovered until the 21st century. 

 In U.S. Civil War Lincoln planned the abolition law which he thought would hasten the end of the conflict,, but wanted a victory before declaring.  Africans were already part of the Union effort and some of them asked for freedom.  After the 12 hour battle at Antietam on September 17, 1862 in which over 23,000 were declared dead, wounded or missing, Lincoln felt confident enough to push the abolition bill through issuing a proclamation on September 22, 1862 to take effect on January 1, 1863.   Africans officially joined the Union Army and Ulysses Grant was able to force a surrender.  

The real battle of prejudicial discrimination continued, but progress has been achieved gradually over time. 

Dedicated to the memory of John Lewis who had met with them as shown n the last episode.

The best way to undermine prejudice is to better understand the forces that brought people to where they are today.  This series is very good to explain many of the travels and motivations.

P.S.  To emphasize that the battle for acceptance and equality is not yet over I will refer you an earlier blog about an eight year period when blacks did have control in one state their progress was all undone.  In a more recent eight year period we can appreciate that a black president can only do so much and someone else can use resentment to set progress back.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Political Preferance for short term thinking

Georgian Flag

This is written for the benefit of Georgian voters none of whom are expected to read it.  Also a protest to the over 70 million who thought Trump was the best choice. with none expected to read my arguments.  The Georgian voters will have a chance to empower Mitch McConnell whose obeisance is to his donors.  Yes, the Senate could offer a check on abuses that the Democrats might try to force on Americans, but they are offering to impede as much constructive legislation as they can.


The Covid pandemic requires urgent short term attention, but should not overlook the lack of long term thinking that exacerbated the crisis.  Obama had been aware of the future danger of pandemics and taken some steps to monitor it and a strategy for dealing with the inevitability.  Brushed aside by Trump, anxious to cut unnecessary expenses to make room for a foolish tax cut.  The pandemic has also pointed to the importance of a national health care strategy that was behind Obamacare.  When one person is inflicted with the virus it is likely to affect others, especially if they are reluctant to seek medical attention, because they fear the expense.  We now know the pandemic not only causes the disease to spread, it impedes medical facilities from being accessible for other medical concerns.  Obamacare should only be seen as a step to a better plan and that is also urgent.

Arguments between politicians and scientists about the causes of climate disasters are serving the big fossil fuel powers.  Fuel economy is a football with the Republicans preferring to not restrict manufacturers.  Not only does his add to climate change it also increases asthma and other diseases.  We see increasing forest fires in North America, Europe and Australia and find other factors involved, at least conservatives do.  Hurricanes and flooding are causing more damage.

Some worry about riots and think the only solution is to clamp down on those with violent inclinations.  Happy people do not riot.  People given opportunities to better themselves generally avail themselves.  People who feel justice prevails are more confident about their everyday affairs.  Understanding the contributions and plights of others leads to co-operation and compassion instead of fear and resentment.  Again long term benefits flow from long term thinking

Education should not be for profit as it is necessary for national security.  Literacy is critical, but is only the beginning.  Critical thinking is crucial.  It is not just the elite that need to be educated, but everyone.  With a changing world we all need to understand more things and not just technology and job skills.  Knowledge (of all sorts) is still power for individuals and society.

At the risk of having all my previous arguments dismissed I would also like to tackle the abortion issue.  No one confronted with the reality likes abortion.  Some people go along with the suggestion that the best course is to make it illegal or as difficult as possible; it is horrifying and offensive.  They overlook some of the facts that opened up legal abortions--the deaths and consequent infertility of young women.  Better solutions are offered by Democrats--sex education, easy access to contraceptives, maternity and paternity policies, medicare for all. 

P.S. Run-off elections are a step in the right direction.  No politician should claim they have a mandate or even that they represent the will of the people unless at least half the people voted for them.  Some might go further and point out that some people didn't bother to vote and in fact credibility is at stake by the percentage of people who voted.  The initial vote gives everyone a chance to express their feelings and vote for the candidate that closest represents their values.  A second vote (if the first did not yield a candidate with 50%) gives everyone a second chance to evaluate their preference among only two choices.  

In the case of Georgia the circumstances have changed.  It now amounts not only to who represents Georgia, but also which party will have the power to legislate for the whole nation.  It is a sobering choice with long term implications. 

Informed  Comment posted something more specific to Georgia that Georgians really need to take a close look at:

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Loudest Voice

Donald Trump did not get elected in a vacuum.  One of the crucial factors was the support from Fox News and the key reason for its power is Roger Ailes.  Many years ago I recall reading a book written by Ailes which was either on sales or business and it impressed me enough.  The man does get things done.  Years later his name became associated with Fox News which by this time was associated with strong right wing politics.  He claims to have gotten Richard Nixon elected by pointing out the power of television.

My awareness of Fox News, its style and slant on the news came indirectly from many other sources.  A weekly or so check of their website convinced me that Fox News was distorting reality for their own greedy inclinations.  

Gabriel Sherman, a reporter decided to write a book and interviewed 600 people, but not Ailes himself.  The book which came out in 2014 was titled "The Loudest Voice in the Room:  How the Brilliant Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News--and Divided Country." It was turned into a 7 part  Tv series under the guidance of Tom McCarthy and Alex Metcalf totaling just under 6 hours and ending just after Trump wins the presidency.  It covers Aile's career from when he was deciding to get involved with Fox News and Rupert Murdoch.

Ailes is portrayed as a dynamic character who built up Fox News from scratch to the dominant cable tv. network.  He did it by targeting a niche and giving them what they wanted.  Ailes strategies included sexism, bullying, harassment, humiliating his opponents, but also he could be charming and self-deprecating.  He browbeated staff to project a strong right wing agenda cherry picking and twisting facts.  Repeating often disproved points such as Obama being a Muslim and born outside the United States convinced many people evil politicians controlled the government..

Rupert Murdoch did not always condone Ailes decisions, but was grateful of him for his overwhelming success.  His son, Lachlan came to hate Ailes and was quoted as saying he came to applaud when Ailes was finally dismissed.  The Murdochs were conservative and appreciated that Ailes had propelled them to cable dominance.

Ailes used NDAs and cameras in most offices to control the staff.  Nobody could stray against his dictates under his monitoring and punishing any miscreants.  He is depicted not only as groper, but also as one who regularly coerced a female staff to perform fellatio.

He tried his best to support John McCain and Mitt Romney with their candidacies against Obama, but encountered more success at state and Congressional levels. 

He targeted Trump as the one with the most potential of all the primary contenders, but also as the one who could boost Fox ratings.  He was told to treat all the Republican candidates equally, but on one such occasion he is depicted made his next call is to Donald Trump to advise on how to maximize the impact of his elevator announcement.  Basically told Trump how to fill the building by hiring people such as unemployed actors to be there.   He negotiated with Trump  and later discussed with Paul Manafort strategy for the convention.

Trump defended Roger when attacked for sexual harassment, but Ailes was forced to resign before the 2016 election.  The story only continues a short time after showing Roger and his wife watching Trump on tv.  Roger had developed prostrate problems and we are shown incidents of both impotence and incontinence.  He also shown using canes and even a wheelchair.   When sexual charges were made he brutally dismissed them and pointed out the NDA contracts.  Gretchen Carlson sidestepped the intended restrictions after she was dismissed.  In fact her career was permanently  hampered.

This series is impressive (and truly scary) because of the many talented people that contributed.  Here are only a few.

Tom McCarthy, was a creator, executive producer and writer.  Films he has contributed to as producer or writer include "Win-Win" (2011),  "The Visitor" (2007),  "The Station Agent" (2007) and "Spotllight" 2015) for which he won an Oscar.   He has over 40 credits as an actor.

Russell Crowe really plays the lead role.  Won Golden Globe for best actor.   As part of his preparation he interviewed some of Aile' acquaintances.  His mannerisms were mostly  bombastic, but also diplomatic when called for.  Physically he is transformed and his walking made one think of a powerful bear.  He won an Oscar for "Gladiator" (2000). His notable films include:  "A Beautiful Mind" (2000), "The Water Diviner"(2014) and "Fathers and Daughters" 2015).

Naomi Watts played the pivotal role of Gretchen Carlson who is the one who forced Roger Ailes to resign. Some of her notable films included "Mulholland Drive" (2001), "21 Grams" (2003), " Fair Game" (2010)" and The Impossible" (2012).

Roger's wife Beth Ailes was played by Sienna Miller, a woman who stood by Roger and had denied all the charges against him which at times must have been very difficult.   Had originally been cast as Maid Marion opposite, Robin Hood, Russell Crowe, but was replaced by Cate Blanchett.  She had ranked high in many fashion lists for her beauty.  Some of her noteworthy films included "Alfie" (2004), "Foxcatcher" (2014), "The Lost City of Z" (2016) and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (2018).

Is there a solution to misinformation being used to effect political (and social) outcomes?  The problem is both institutional and humanistic.  The First Amendment allows people to express any opinion provided it is not used for force, fraud or defamation.  Facts are sometimes tricky things to pin down and can be used to support a wide variety of views.  Human nature is the real core of the problem.  We have evolved to fight or flee.  We are distrustful of others and seek out people like ourselves.  Society has also evolved to more complexity than ever with some people having access to controls never conceived of before.

Education is critical, but has many political controls.  Universities pride themselves on independent thinking and that needs to be preserved.  Technology and job skills are considered to be the primary purpose of schools.  Critical thinking should be integrated as it supports both aims.  Cultural appreciation in the form of how different cultures have developed and inter acted.  Exchanges should be encouraged.  Respect for education.

A key strategy is to separate opinion from fact.   Of course the same facts can be twisted. to reach different conclusions.  One of my favorite twists was for a sales pitch in which the prospect proclaimed his bad fortune and thus couldn't afford insurance, repositioned by the sales man that he couldn't afford not to have insurance.  Nonetheless facts are the basis for any argument and need to be accurate.  False facts need to be denounced strongly which requires socially and legal tools.  False interpretations are in reality also false facts.  Easier said than done, but needs to be tackled before it becomes too difficult. Education (too often controlled by political forces) needs to be a forceful tool.

Roger Ailes was an exceptional man with strong opinions and abilities.  He used his intelligence and forcefulness for his own ends. There are many others wanting to build on his creation.  Society has become conscious of bully tactics at the school yard level and need to elevate to the worlds of business and politics.  A world in which reason is more respected should be our goal.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

KARTINI , Princess of Java Feminist leader in Indonesia

Netflix is helping to make the world a smaller place with bigger minds.  The West has taken the lead in women's rights and to some extent have led women from the third world to more power.   Watching the struggles froma n earlier time and a far away place helps one appreciate the obstacles better.  Kartini...." 2017) from Indonesia offers a view of one women's efforts to free herself from a rigid social structure that many of us cannot imagine.

Colonial powers are not often thought of as bringing benefits to the lands they had conquered.  In a real sense they have gained more than they gave.  In the English speaking world we might  not be very aware that the Dutch were a major colonial power.  They controlled much of what we know as Indonesia, one of the largest populations in the world.  In this film they appear benevolent and tolerant, but a documentary seen while writing this blog points out the Dutch were also heavily involved in slavery and just as cold calculating and cruel as anyone else.

Kartini grew up in a privileged family in Java, but that came with restrictions.  She had a brother who steered her to more knowledge and she made contact with Dutch educated women who encouraged her.  There was resistance from her extended family but gradually progress was made.  

Women were not allowed higher education.  When they started menstruation women like Kartini were secluded from outside contact.  They could be forced into polygamous marriages at an early age.  Deference to a hierarchy of powers was expected.  One example was women approaching royalty crouched and walking in a very awkward manner. 

Kartina was able to talk to a Muslim scholar and learned that he considered it a duty for both men and women to seek more knowledge.  He pointed out that most Muslims preferred to read the Quar'an in Arabic and failed to understand the full meaning of the words.

She and two of her sisters were able to set up teaching in their home for younger children.  She wrote books and articles that were published in the Netherlands and successfully promoted local engraving which increased her leverage.

In the end she kept being pressured to be married,to a man with a wife.  She finally agreed to the marriage if  certain conditions were met--not be asked to perform many of the normal duties of wives such as washing her husband's feet, and to be supported in setting up a school.  Most felt he would not accept these conditions, however when they actually met it turned out his now deceased wife had admired Karatini and wanted her children to be taught by her.  He agreed and they were married and she was able to set up a school.

Robert Ronny, the producer and co-writer had graduated from the New York Film Academy and returned to Indonesia.   He wrote, directed and produced many movies and tv shows.   He formed Legacy Pictures, a production house to put out quality films in 2014.  An award winner.

Hanung Bramatyo, the director and co-writer  got his start as director in 1998 with a short film, "Tlutor" that won a local award.  His first feature film was in 2004.  He did mainly romantic, teenage dramas, sports films.  In 2011 he directed a film, "Tande Tanyo? that dealt with 3 different religions in a pluralistic manner, attracting some criticism.  He once said he wanted to be known as "a fighter against stupidity and ignorance."

The cinematography is by Fauzan Rizal.  An ocean sequence is captivating and there are other examples.  His work on this film was nominated for a national award.  He directed "Habibie and Ainun" (2012) which is one of my favorite films seen this year. 

Pleasant background music was provided by veteran composers, Charlie Meliala and Andi Rianto.   At the end credits is a tune by popular song writer, Mellyn Goleslaw, joined by Gita Gatawi.  You can listen to it here:

There are some interesting edit cuts which were handled by Wawan I. Wabowo.  He had been nominated for a national award for his work on "Kartini and also "Habibie and Ainun."

 Dian Sastrowardoyo played the lead role handsomely.  She had to play a submissive young woman who asserted her will in male structured world.  She was a cover girl winner for a teenage magazine in 1996.  In 2005 at an Asian regional festival held in France she won an award as most promising newcomer.  In 2009 she started a foundation to promote education, women empowerment and Indonesian culture.  She has played a variety of roles, romantic, a refugee, and an assassin. 

During the pandemic it seems our world is closing in on us, but thanks to modern technology we have access to a much wider world.  It is my sincere belief you can expand your mind by searching out the best the rest of the world has to offer.  In the way of film entertainment "Kartina'"is a good example.  This is my second Indonesian film enjoyed this year, but thanks to Netflix and my local library I have visited many other nations.

Friday, October 30, 2020

What about those "hicks"

A tv pundit before the election pointed out that many liberals who would be aghast at prejudice against blacks, gays or other minorities really look down upon rural residents.  Michael Ignatieff author and former leader of the Canadian Liberal Party realized the biggest divide in Canada was between rural and urban citizens.  Read more:

I lived in a small, but well off city Oshawa until my last two years of high school which were completed in Haliburton, a touristy rural area. Afterwards visited my parents for a few years and had one friend still there, but when my parents moved I only visited as a salesman. 

At the University of Guelph, known for its agriculture and veterinarian programs I of course met lots of Aggie students.  They were not at all stupid, or unsophisticated (for the most part).  After graduating and several jobs I found myself as a salesman who very often worked in small towns and rural areas as my prospects were mainly pet stores, veterinarians and tack shops.  I found more success in smaller centres, partly because I felt more comfortable.  In the cities the buyers were hardened to sales people as they saw many, many of whom were aggressive.   In smaller areas many of the buyers seemed grateful that someone would take the trouble to visit them.

Were there other differences?  Certainly.  Country music which I had avoided was popular.  Gun culture was more noticeable, but connected to hunting.  A big difference was that most people did not lock their house or car doors.  Everybody knew everybody and in general were more friendly.  I found myself liking some country music, tolerated friends who liked to hunt and adapted in other ways.  My urban girl friend (now my wife) was shocked at my casual attitude about going outdoors in the dark.  More thoughts from my experiences:

A couple of developments highlighted some differences between rural and urban citizens.  A few years back the Ontario government which was Liberal decided they would shut down some gambling sites located at racetracks known as Slots.  They had been a source of money for the racetracks (and local municipalities, etc.) and had propped up horse owners and race track employees.  This was very upsetting to the race horse trade as it was threatening to jobs and breeding programs.  The government maintained that it only hurt fat cat owners, but in fact it threatened about 50,000 workers and many municipal budgets.  Apparently the provincial government had been lobbied by American casino interests who were hurt by the racetrack competition, most notably in Windsor, Sarnia and Fort Erie, all border towns.  The Slots policy had little impact on Liberal voters who were mostly located in urban voting districts.  The rural areas were mostly strong Conservative voting areas.  At the time the Liberal party was not hurt by this policy.

To any Americans it should be noted that the labels liberal and conservative did indicate political party preferences, but there was overlap at the party level with many voters of both parties being centrists.  The socialist party, the New Democrats were also strongest in urban centres and were not as concerned about the racetrack impacts.

Another interesting difference was noted when I got involved with selling tooth brushes for dogs.  As you might imagine it was a hard sell.  Strangely I had more success in urban areas where many city dwellers could understand the health advantages of brushing the teeth of their beloved pets.  I later learned there were social benefits that would reduce dog bites.  Still most city people felt the idea of sticking their hands in a dog's mouth was yucky.  Rural people, especially farmers saw no problem with handling animals in their mouths, but thought the brushing idea ridiculous and I got laughed at a lot.  They were hardened to treating animals as commodities for either food or work.   Read more:

I am now well past my  high school years and the world has changed.  But one trend is still happening and that is urbanization.  With that many rural migrants feel they have lost something and a few urban dwellers tire of the rat race.  With the mass media we all are little more turned on by country music trends.  Urban crime (in the media) especially in the States has many people concerned about protection. 

I remember reading a book by Norman Vincent Peale where he pointed out that in cities it is easier for people to find other like minded people than it is in rural areas.  My last two years of high school reinforced this notion.  Most of the students were bused in from a huge area and that restricted after school activities.  My basketball team attracted those who walked to school (like myself) and those with parents/friends who could drive them after games and practices.  I found myself socializing with a wider range of ages than I had in the city.  Young people were aware of many city attractions and many yearned to leave for the city lights and jobs.  Often a student would find in universities and colleges new ideas not compatible with their upbringing.

Looking at the United States the rural urban divide is very real.  The Constitution has made small states and rural areas disproportionately powerful and it has caused the majority of voters' losses they find hard to accept.  One example would be the composition of the Supreme Court that has been set to the advantage of small states and rural voters.  That one institution has rippling effects concerning gun rights, abortions, welfare, etc.  Some would argue that such power hurts everyone.

Rural people are not stupid, and contribute to the welfare of urbanites that are not always appreciated.  Food is one very obvious one and many city dwellers have little idea where their packaged food comes from.  A slower pace of life in an insane world has its merits.  I once worked for a company that discovered that their best managers came from small towns and rural areas which is how I got hired.  Country people are thought to have a good work ethic.

In Canada we have had exchange programs where French and English students live in another language.  On an international scale student have lived in foreign countries.  These exchange programs help us understand other people.  Many urban children would have their eyes opened by more contact with their rural citizens.  At the time when my parents "forced" me to move to a small town in a rural area I was very resentful, but looking back it was one of most important moves of my life.  We would all benefit if we could better understand those country hicks or city slickers.

The photo is of city folks visiting a rural area.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Generation War

The German view of World War II is different than that for those of us on the other side.  They initiated the war and were cocksure they would win.  Their shame is not only the humiliating loss but also the Holocaust.  Many films over the years have dealt with the reality that so many wanted to deny, but this one in 2013 was a breakthrough that has unleashed other efforts.   This was a 3 part tv. mini series.  The special features included an interesting discussion of the movie. 

The process started in 2005 with three years worth of research.  The writer Stefan Kolditz interviewed people alive at the time and studied diaries mainly of common soldiers as this film was intended to reflect those below decision makers.   There was a lot of resistance to talking about it, but a lot of material was gathered.  The film crew were able to attract the largest budget for a German tv. series in the past twenty years.  There were lots of technical problems, but good co-operation from the financiers.   The series finally became public in 2013.

They chose to do the Russian scenes in Lithuania and picked one section that had a history of heavy snowfall, but when they went to shoot winter battle scenes, the snow was disappointing and they ended up waiting another year to get the effect they wanted.  As they got into the editing they realized that the times were not delineated properly and they decided to use archived films with the dates noted.

In 1975 the French had done a movie  "Le vieyx fusil"--The Old Gun)that was truthful about the war.  In East Germany it was uncut and subtitled realistically, but in West Germany it had had some cuts to avoid upsetting Germans.  The producers wanted to present something truthful, including both German and Russian cruelties, but the financiers were nervous.  When it finally came out, it started a lot of conversations among the children and grandchildren of the veterans.  It also started conversations in Poland.

The writer recalled his own youth in East Germany where music played a role in his youth and decided that swing music provided a logical opening to depict carefree young people just before they were about to be immersed in the war efforts.  Swing music was forbidden and monitored by the authorities.  One of the characters was called in for her interest in the swing dancing.

The opening is with three men, two brother off to war, the third a Jewish tailor plus two women. The tailor's girlfriend is an entertainer who ends up in a relationship with German leader (unfaithful to his wife) to get a pass for her boyfriend, but he ends up in custody anyway and later escapes  The other woman in love with the older of the brothers is planning to be a nurse at the war front.  They are united by a love of swing music which gives them a confrontation with the law.   A lot of very rough things happen over the next five years.  Many felt betrayed, but were unable to express defeatism.   A spoiler alert is that only 3 get together after the war and each of the two romances was broken.

The Russians were demanding a second front and thought through France was the most logical and would relieve the most pressure on them the quickest.  The Allies felt that was unrealistic and opted to start in North Africa and work their way up the Italian Peninsula.  In the end this allowed the Russians to capture huge parts of Europe and develop their own Iron Curtain.

Anti Jewish sentiment wasn't just from the Germans as many partisans were viciously anti semitic and extended to all classes.  One of the main characters betrays a Jew and later regrets it.

Benjamin Benedict,  a producer, who spoke French and German during the special features discussion had won awards for other tv. mini series and also for this series.  Another award winning series was "Der Turm" (2014)  He has also written scripts for tv.

 Phillip Kadelbach, the director has won several awards for this film including the International Emmy award.  He also directed "Hindenberg:  The Last Flight" (2011) for English speaking television.

Stefan Kolditz, the writer had been in the East German army and even wrote two scripts while there.

Fabian Romer composed the music covering a wide range of emotions.  He has been writing music for German movies and television shows since 1995    

The cinematography is sometimes stunning. David Slama, born in Prague, studied film in Germany.  He was with the camera crew for  "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988).

Volker Bruch plays Wilhelm Winter, the older of two brothers. Has appeared in numerous movies, some in English: "The Baader Meinhoff Complex" (2008) "The Reader" (2008)  "The Man with the Iron Heart" (2017), and "The Girl in the Spider's Web (2018).

Tom Schilling plays Friedrich Winter.  He once won a scholarship for the Lee Strasberg Academy and spent half a year in New York.   Some of his films include  "Suite Francais" (2014),  "Woman in Gold" 2015), and "Never Look Away "(2018).   In the last one he had the leading role in one of my favorites seen this year.

Ludwig Trepte played the Jewish son urging his parents to leave.  He is the son of a rock star.  He has won numerous awards in German television.

Katharina Schuttler played Greta who had ambitions to be an entertainment star and loved a Jewish man, but became a mistress to a German officer to help her boyfriend.   She performs a few songs in the film. She started acting in films at age 11.   Some of her movies include "Carlos" (2010) "Simon and the Oaks" (2011), "13 Minutes" (2013), and "The King's Choice (2016)

Miriam Stein played Charlotte who became a front line nurse after hardening herself to the realities of war.  She loved Wilhelm, coincidentally (?) she has been in a relationship with the actor Volker Bruch.  Born in Vienna, the daughter of a Swiss actor.  Some of her films include:   "The Foster Boy"(2010), "Young Goethe in Love" (2011) and "Borgia" (2014)

History we are told is written by the victors.  It is good know that the losers can also write honest history and maybe we can learn from them as well.  Well worth the time.

As is usual I have bolded the moves I have watched.

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Tattoist of Auschwitz

 The Holocaust is not believed by some, and overlooked by many.  We will never know the full story, but stories of survival give some hope.  The author, a non Jew living in Australia was sought out by one survivor who had a story to tell.  It is of love overcoming one of mankind's greatest horror stories.

Perhaps embellished a bit, but insightful the subject of story was concerned about being perceived as a collaborator.  He survived because he could speak several languages; Slovakian, German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian that makes him useful and gives him some leverage.  Lale was careful in what he said, but pushed limits.  It could have been told as a true story, but sometimes fiction allows the author to paint a truer picture.  Heather does provide some photos and some facts.

The story was originally written as a film script and I hope they are able to come up with something that would get wider distribution than a book.   Apparently something is at the development stage and hopefully will work its way through the Covid 19 pandemic.

The story begins when Lale is given a chance to be the tattooist who is given a key task that allows him not only to survive, but also to gain some leverage.  The Germans are noted for their efficiency and they do indeed keep track of their prisoners.  At one point there is a problem with duplicate numbers and Lale is able to determine that part of one number has been distorted as for instance an 8 turned to a 3.  For some reason he is impressed with Gita when it is her turn to be tattooed and is able to make contact with her later on.  It is only at the end of the imprisonment that she tells him her last name which is one clue to finding her.  

Freedom in a concentration camp is extremely curtailed, but in reality many of the inmates had carved out some small amount of freedom.  Anything of value was confiscated by the authorities, but sometimes they were careless and allowed some small bits of jewelry or foreign currencies to be found by the inmates who used such items for favors among themselves, some outsiders or even (including the protagonist) to the prison staff.  Favors could include getting extra food, some medicine or even privacy.

 A poignant moment was when Lale asks Gita if he could kiss her.  She expresses surprise, asks why would you want to, my teeth are rotten.  He replies that so are his.  Such intimacies were rare, but not to be denied.

As the tattooist Lale is perceived to be a collaborator and traitor.  He sees it as a chance not only to survive but to lessen the burden for others.  Lale uses his influence to lessen the burden of others, but becomes hardened to the realities for the thousands and thousands he gives their numbers to.

There is a soccer game concocted for the amusement of the prison staff who are pretty confident they can prove their racial superiority.  Lale was able to help recruit semi professional players among the Jewish inmates.   They started off with goals, but self protection and poor condition allowed the guards to win.   Similar stories of the disadvantaged somehow winning might be true, but in Auschwitz not only was it dangerous to provoke those with literally life and death authority, but also the players had been starving.

As guards realize Russians are at hand confusion stirs and the German staff become ambivalent, realizing they are guilty and concerned about their own survival.  Others feel they must expedite killing more Jews The two characters are separated and seek to survive amongst chaos.  They do contact and marry and eventually end up in Australia where they had one son who contributed an epilogue for the book.

The Holocaust is one of the most real horror stories of the century, but it is also contains a testiment to the resilience of mankind.   We should never forget the horror and what lead up to it, but cherish the love that survived.



Friday, October 9, 2020

What is the "Radical Left"

Donald Trump is known for his insults and to his base they reflect something bad.  Lately a favorite insult is to call the Democrats the "Radical Left."  It must be scary or why bother?  But what does it mean?

It has been coupled with film about disastrous riots in Venezuela as if that is a good example of a "socialist" or "Radical Left" country.  It is a very bad and misleading example.  Why not use Denmark?  If people looked at the details a little bit closer they might wonder what is so terrible about Denmark?  They are always one of the top five happiest countries in the world when that attribute is measured.  And why wouldn't they be happy--they are well paid, have excellent health care, relatively pollution free.

 What does socialism really mean?  It can mean a wide range of systems, but essentially it means co-ordinating the interests of everyone for maximum benefit.  A simple example might be the fire department.  At one point fires were personal disasters that could effect any individual.  People would pool their resources to share the expense of trying to stop fires.  Either volunteers or paid employees would be contacted when a fire broke out and bring as much equipment and their experience.  Benjamin Franklin was an early advocate.  Fire damage is still a problem, but pooling resources helps keep it under control.

As with any arrangement that distributes political power, including socialism can be corrupted.  It is up to the people to keep it honest, but sometimes the political system itself makes it easier or harder.

Those seeking power in a modern country require money to get elected.  Money helps attract attention and helps shape opinions.  One party is financed by those who like how things are right now and appeals to those who are afraid of change.  We live in an age of inequality.  If we don't change we will die.  The Covid-19 panic is adding to it as small businesses are going under while the well positioned are getting richer.

Obamacare is socialist, but really it is only a step towards what most of the industrialized world already enjoys.  It suits insurance companies and Big Pharma to keep things the way they are. They control the risks.  In all those nations that have adopted national health care programs their life spans are greater than that of the United States plus they spend a lesser percentage of income.  Another bonus is unlike the United States where medical expenses are the number one cause of bankruptcy there is virtually no bankruptcies  due to medical expenses.  An individual may feel they are taken care of, but as the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated we are all affected by each other's health.  You could say a national health plan is an essential part of national security.

Fossil fuels still amount to trillions in the ground and there are some who want their share (and then some).   Unfortunately fossil fuels are bad for your health and bad for climate change.  There are a lot of protesters and opinion writers trying to change things but they do not have the big money clout.   Pollution is deadly, but the oil industry is reluctant to curb asthma fumes.  Part of the cost of producing any product should be cleaning up the mess.  Yes, that means the consumers would have to pay more

Both insurance companies and military recognize climate change but governments find resistance from party donors.  We are all starting to notice increased,floods, hurricanes, water rising, fires, heat literally killing people.-  What more proof does one need? Delay is costly not only in lives, but also money.

Campaign finance reform is not in the interest of the wealthy.  Money is their big weapon and they are getting more sophisticated in using it.  It is hard to believe that corporations (controlled by the wealthy) have the same rights as humans, but an "activist" court can decide.  McConnell has seen to it that there will be more decisions favorable to the wealthy.

Food inspectors are protecting your health, but all too often are victims whenever budgets need to be trimmed including after tax cuts for the wealthy

Unions have been beaten down, a source of pride for Ronald Reagan.  They not only help to lessen inequality they also provide safer and happier work environments.  Germany, as one example has prospered by including labor in management decisions.

Regulated capitalism can work, but with dashes of socialism.  The problem with unregulated capitalism is the steady concentration of wealth.  Being smart and working hard should be rewarded, but there is often an element of luck and certainly without support from consumers few would be as powerful as today's billionaires.  Capital is initially created by labour (and smart ideas).

To counter the charges of "radical socialism" I would suggest "unbridled capitalism" which is really what some wealthy people are striving for.  Regulations are mostly "protections" against health and financial risks that unfortunately cut into the profits.

Words have power and can tools or weapons.  One man who understands this is George Lakoff.  Read more so we use words as tools.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

100 Metros

Inspirational stories can help pick us up and maybe help appreciate that others might have things a bit rougher than ourselves.  Looking for something to relieve my Covid-19 boredom I came across a Spanish movie on Netflix about  a man who is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and goes on to tackle a very demanding Triathlon.   Based on a true story (otherwise not so inspiring).  Two relationships are at the core and others play a role in the culmination of a measure of success.  We also gain an insight into how MS can affect not only the victim, but also the family.
It starts out innocently enough with the protagonist, Ramon making a triumphant business presentation and phoning his wife to celebrate.  Looking forward to a Sushi dinner he learns his father in law, Manolo has had an accident and requires attention that shifts the celebration.  We learn right away Ramon doesn't get along with his father in law, but while there, a hole in the roof yields another bit of falling plaster and it is decided he has to go home with his daughter Inma.  Twice we see slight physical problems with Ramon's inability to tie his shoelaces and having trouble controlling chopsticks.  The roof cave in and the physical difficulties turn out to be two premonitions.
Once Ramon is diagnosed with a relapsing form of Multiple Sclerosis Inma who is pregnant is very supportive saying at different times they were diagnosed and  both will have to make whatever decisions have to be made.  We get a brief description of Multiple Sclerosis of the relapsing type.  
But the father in law is still living with them and is at best marginally supportive.  The two men often go together to do Ramon's therapy and chores.  At an exercise session Ramon spots a poster for an upcoming triathlon and decides that is his goal.  At first Inma is reluctant, but in the end she agrees and she insists that her father be his trainer. 

 Manolo had been a phys ed instructor for over 40 years and even had one major athletic success but does not seem the part.  We soon learn he is a pot smoker, even growing marijuana and is very cynical.  Instead of starting off at the gym or with some road work Ramon begins with gardening chores reminding one of "The Karate Kid."  Training is very improvised with Manolo deciding three legged running and jumping through tires would help.  At one point he asks Ramon what MS is like in his head and the viewer is treated to a dizzying spin on the edge of a precipice over a really beautiful valley. 

Ramon learns by accident that the reason the roof caved in was Manolo in despair after his wife's death, had tried to hang himself.  Manolo expresses his view of life as a degenerative disease with no cure.  Things nevertheless are going smoothly until Ramon decides to set Manolo up with a widow, Noelia they had encountered on the beach during training, but that upset the father in law who was still grieving his wife.  Manolo breaks their training agreement, but they still eat at the same table.  Eventually Manolo does get together with Noelia after some help from Ramon who gave a very personal unique gift to his father in law.

Humorous dialogue abounds, but the language is not suitable for young children and includes a few scatological references.  The two men, the heart of the film, begrudgingly come to respect one another.  In a clinic setting Ramon meets with other patients where dark humor and morbidity is sometimes contrasted with positive thinking.  One patient explains that the disease is your best enemy as it forces you to change your whole perspective.  The title comes from a patient who says that in a year Ramon will not be able to walk 100 meters.  Later Ramon watches 100 meter Olympic race and comments it is not that far.  But when he has a relapse he needs to be rescued by his wife when attempting to walk 100 meters in city traffic.

Ramon ha a constant limp and suffers intermittent muscle contractions mostly in his hands, but also his legs.  He has switched medicine and undergoes physiotherapy inducing hydro therapy.  He persists in his running, swimming and cycling.  Eventually we get to the big event and we learn there is 17 hour limit which Ramon requires while his wife, son, baby, wife, father in law and Noelia watches right up to the very end.

A good story is only as good as the presentation.  The "100 Meters" team won an ensemble award meaning the cast was very strongly supported by a capable crew. 

Portuguese producer Tino Navaro has directed,/written scripts, produced and acted in movies covering  Portuguese, Spanish and English.

Barcelona born director and writer, Marcel Barrena has been involved in Spanish television and cinema winning national awards from the beginning.

Rodrigo Leao has composed music mostly for Portuguese television and cinema and has won regional and international awards.  North Americans are most likely to have heard his music with "Lee Daniel's The Butler" (2013.  )The background music includes some gentle pleasant piano.  The end credits includes a beautiful song written and performed by Amaia Montero.

Xavier Gimenez, also born in Barcelona and returns to his home town for this film and although it does not emphasize the main touristy shots is an interesting city nonetheless.  The shot of Ramon spinning Manolo on the edge of a giant rock over a beautiful valley is spectacular and will leave you a little woozy. He has had a number of top movies "The Liberator" (2013), "The Invisible Guest" (2016),  Palm Trees in the Snow (2015), His music has also been heard in movies with Hollywood stars including "Agora (2009), "Transsiberian (2008) The Machinist" (2004 ) and "Red Lights" (2012).  "The Invisible Guest" is a classic and been remade, check out:

 The editor, Nacho Ruiz Capillas has tracked a lot of the same movies as Xavier, but also includes  "A Twelve Year Night"(2012)  "The Education of Fairies (2006).  Check out:

 Karra Elejalde plays the gruffy father in law.  It was he who suggested Dani Rovira for the lead role and they obviously have good chemistry.  He appeared in "Even The Rain" (2010) and "Biutiful" (2010).

 Dani Rovira played Ramon from a range from despair to light hearted husband, father and son in law.

Alexandra Jimenez plays Inma and won a best supporting actress award for this film.  Her role is the link between her father and her husband who dislike each other.  She pulls them together whenever possible.

Clara Segura plays the doctor who gently explains MS to Dani and his wife.   She appeared in"The Sea Inside" (2004), an all time favorite that inspired a popular blog.

Ramon doesn't win the race, but does conquer his goal.  At the end we learn he went on to complete another one and also several marathons.  During the end credits we see a photos of the real Ramon along with his wife and father in law and children.  After a three year break he relapsed. The point of the movie is his achievement.

Take a look at a trailer with English subtitles.   A brief glance at the valley shot--much more in the movie itself.  You may have to click on another link, but it is safe.

The film is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands who suffer from multiple sclerosis.  The Spanish Neurological Society awarded the film for its contributions to Multiple Sclerosis.  I forgot to mention that MS Canada is my number one charity. 

 If you are ready to donate you can do so here

The bolded titles are of films I have seen.

Monday, September 28, 2020

JACKIE CHAN: The Man who brought humour to the marital arts.

Martial arts films had no appeal for me, but stumbling onto a Jackie Chan movie found myself laughing.  A documentary film "Chop Socky:  Cinema Hong Kong" (2003) narrated in part by Jackie  explained a little of the film history with respect to martial arts.  The Beijing Opera had choreography practices including acrobatics,that were passed on to films.  Martial arts became very popular.  Wu xia became a popular form where movements are greatly exaggerated.  Some methods were to film backwards, to use trampolines and wires and to careful camera angles.  The Hong Kong film makers borrowed from the Japanese.  To save time fight sequence filmed once, but with different cameras simultaneously and then edited for optimal effect.

When Bruce Lee died there were a number of potential successors and Jackie thought hard how to differentiate himself.  He realized he was in the entertainment business and one of his unique qualities was a sense of humor and a detailed sense of planning.  His decision opened up the genre to humor and innovation.

Jackie was born in 1954 in Hong Kong.  His family migrated to Canbera, Australia where his parents  worked in the American Embassy, but when Jackie performed poorly in school his father sent him back to Hong Kong where he was enrolled in China Drama School, part of the Peking Opera schools.   He excelled in acrobatics, martial arts and singing.  As a youngster he admired Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd  He performed in a traveling troop and also visited his parents in Australia, but struck for the movie industry in Hong Kong.  He took some minor roles including two in Bruce Lee films.  With the untimely death of Lee,  Jackie was elevated, but he had a different style of fighting and acting.  Hong Kong churned out films quickly to take advantage of interest in martial fighting films.  Filming often included ones shot takes that required planning. 

Jackie's big breakthrough came with "Drunken Master" (1978), followed with his first directing job with "The Young Master" (1980).  A few attempts to break into the American market directly faltered.  By this time he had developed perhaps the most exciting martial art sequences in Hong Kong.  Again tackled the American market in with "The Protector" (1985 ) but felt not understood by Americans.  He toughened up his image for "Police Story (1985) that finally hit the mark.

A big American breakthrough was with "Rush Hour" (1998) co-starring Chris Tucker.  Lots of humour.  Two sequels have been produced with rumors there might be another.

Jackie combined with another martial arts hero, Jet Li for "The Forbidden Kingdom, mostly filmed in China, but really was an American teenager fantasy transporting a boy not only across the ocean, but also through time.  Good fun with lots of Jackie's trade mark fighting.

Like many actors who dislike being type cast Jackie reached out for a chance to prove he can act seriously.  "Shinjuku Incident" (2009)  proved to be a much more serious movie (about illegal Chinese immigrants in Japan) and Jackie came through as very competent.   The violence is repulsive in small sections while Martial arts is not emphasized.  It was considered too violent for China and the producers decided to abandon Chinese market.  There is a brief sex scene (Jackie has mostly been a chaste kisser at best).  Mandarin  is spoken by a Taiwanese gang that detests the new Cantonese illegal and work with the Japanese Yukza.  Jackie is excellent.  Derek Yee, the director admired by Chan had wanted to offer Jacki serious role taking 10 years to research

"The Karate Kid" (2010) has had several versions.  Jackie may have waited until he was older, but took the opportunity to shift action to China.  One of the few films allowed in Forbidden City.   The film was sort of a project of Will Smith's family with both parents doing producing and Jaden was the lead character who mentored by Jackie who also helped off reel.

"The Spy Next Door" (2010) was another of many working with young children.

"The Foreigner" (2017) had Jackie as grieving father seeking revenge,   In this serious film he was believable, but this time innovative martial arts plays a key role.  Filmed in Britain with Pierce Brosnan as he antagonist.  Jackie gets involved with Irish terrorism.

He has been a UNICEF Good Will Ambassador and has campaigned against animal abuse and pollution and assisted with disaster relief efforts with for the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

He does his own dubbing to English and to Mandarin taking it seriously.  He make it time consuming as he feels it makes a better impression to be as precise as possible.  I have generally favored subtitles over dubbing, partly because it doesn't seem natural, however having heard Jackie's dubbing into English from Chinese it does sound natural especially as his voice is recognizable.  Recently I was lured into a Netflix series, "Borgen" that promised new dubbing and it seems not quite flawless, but more natural.   Possibly since most Danes speak English they used some of the same actors meaning their voices match better and if great care is given the final product is easier to understand.

Surprisingly (to some) is that Jackie sings and has since his youth. Sings in many of his movies and has many albums.  In short Jackie is an entertainer in the truest sense of the word.

Monday, September 21, 2020


 For many progressive thinkers the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been upsetting.  The dynamics of current politics is confusing.  Those with the power to replace her seem fanatical and oblivious to fairness or rationality.   On the other hand most voters are supportive of delaying an appointment.

The hypocrisy of Republicans is upsetting.  They used their power to ignore the right of a Democratic president to nominate a Supreme Court Judge rationalizing that it was too close to an election and that it was ok to have the court with 8 judges.  Where do you draw the line of what is too close to an election?   11 months or 44 days?  Obviously the decision will affect the election.  Does the elected president have the power to make the decision or at some point should they defer to the voters.  

It is claimed that the Supreme Court will need 9 judges should the anticipated contested election results occur.  And if one side gets to choose the potential tie breaker they get another major advantage.

To all voters there is a lot emotional packaging tied up in this election already.  From the point of view of most voters we are already dealing with a frustrating unfair situation.  The 2016 election ignored the will of the people and automatically used the electoral college to determine the winner.  Of course Trump gratified his base with his first selection and the Democratic opposition co-operated.  

Then Justice Kennedy, the swing judge decided (or was persuaded) to retire.  Along the way it was revealed that his son had loaned Trump money when nobody else would.  The nominee Brett Kavanagh apparently had a history with the swing judge and also had been noted to favor more executive power to the president.  We already had much legal action against Trump, but none of it seemed to stick.  The entire judicial system was being altered to be packed with conservative judges who could be counted on to support the evangelical base and a president who might need some legal support.  The Kavanagh nomination was contested with many Republicans claiming unfairly attacking a conservative.  All the same the Democrats were unable to get all the witnesses and procedures they felt were required.

There is no constitutional barrier to the Republicans getting their way.  A few Republicans are not co-operating.  Perhaps they have some moral convictions and maybe some of them think it may make them look bad.  Possibly the conservatives might be able to get their way before the election which will either be cheered by some voters or upset others.  If there is a lame duck session the defeated Republicans could get their revenge.

Power is easily abused and many of us can find ourselves swept up in the waves.  Progressives like to feel we are the rational ones but are stuck with the fact that emotions will carry the day.  Is it possible that there could be strong enough backlash to overcome evangelical fervor? 

For some the whole point is to make abortions disappear.  Many progressives think that is commendable if somewhat naive.  The Republican's real agenda has always been economic--they want to lower taxes, lower services and deregulate.  To us they seem very self-righteous, but many of them realize their agenda is a losing one.  They have discovered they can leverage social concerns which means take advantage of prejudice and ignorance. 

To return to the most emotional issue, those against abortion need to examine if the law is the best way to attain their goal and are there any consequences.  A lot of abortions can be stopped because accessibility can be very restricted.  The rich always have the option of going outside national boundaries and even the embarrassed self righteous may use foreign options.  There will be either money grubbers or sympathetic people with medical skills willing to defy the law.  Desperate people feeling trapped may attempt home remedies. Without proper medical supervision and facilities it can be predicted mothers will die and others will become infertile.  The founders of Freakonomics did a study of why crime stats were declining and considered a wide range of factors, but one unexpected factor could also be linked.  Crime rates significantly declined about 20 years after the Roe v Wade decision.  The thinking is that unwanted children are handicapped. and raised with a lot of resentment.  It could be because a father is missing or it could be because of poverty.  This should be a society concern that can be dealt with among other things, sexual education, contraceptive access, parental leave, tax incentives.  The real change will only come when people understand the issues better.

Perhaps it will be impossible to make some people even consider other issues, but there are and many have life and death implications.  The Supreme court will be ruling on health care issues and it is entirely possible that tens of millions will lose coverage.  With today's precarious economy everyone is in jeopardy and more importantly the current pandemic illustrates how important community health is to every individual.  As long as one feels secure in their health coverage they may not realize that anyone being sick without support effects everyone.

The Supreme court has many other legal issues that effect everyone.  One very big example is campaign financing.  Americans are increasingly controlled by big money entities that frankly are just trying to squeeze more money out everyone else.  They know what legal support gives them the power and they also have increasing accessibility to big data.  The Supreme Court had ruled that corporations have many of the same rights as citizens. 

Originally the American system was based on a system of checks and balances, but as the president gains more power the checks and balances are in disarray.  The Supreme court has favored presidential executive powers and has an example have been able to protect Trump against having to reveal his taxes. 

For many of us everything revolves around our distaste for Donald Trump himself.  He has lied and deliberately misled even his base.  He has ignored advice from his staff.  The Russian connections are still a mystery, but there is something very troubling.  The main thrust of impeachment efforts was to convict Trump for holding up support for Ukrainians in their efforts to resist Russian aggression.  Republicans dismissed claims, but few who listened to testimonies were reassured.  It is also hard to ignore Russian efforts to get Trump elected.  Although there might be other motives, it does seem that Trump is following Putin preferences by breaking up international co-operation efforts with prime examples of the Iran Nuclear Agreement  and Paris Climate Change Accord..

A lot of what concerns progressives could have been dealt with by an election victory, but now we are concerned about a Supreme court appointment that could impact for three or four decades and even decide election disputes.  The remedies are controversial.  Adding another 5 new Supreme Court judges could trigger spiral reactions.  Trying to impeach an existing judge could also generate repercussions.

What to do?  The most practical strategy would be to try to persuade a few more Republicans to vote against an appointment and also to support Mark Kelly who can be a Senator as early as November 30th.  Appealing to their conscience will have a very limited effect.  Stirring up their election prospects bearing in mind that most voters are not in favor of an obvious abuse of power.  

I do not think it wise to commit to drastic measures such as packing the future court.  But Republicans need to be aware there will be consequences.  One thought that occurs to me is future legal action against Trump himself.  The danger is from his base who may actually act violently.  Still the evidence against Trump is likely to be overwhelming and may effect some of the base. 

The election itself is turbo changed.  The Supreme Court will definitely spur more of the Trumpian base to not only get out to vote, but also to be obstructive and intimidating.  But it will also stir more stay at home fence sitters to be more active against an obvious abuse of power.  The Court issue has to be expanded beyond abortion (Democrats and independents would also like to alleviate the concern).  In general the voters need to be aware of big issues such as handling the pandemic, climate change and go back to how the Democrat team including Biden turned the economy around.

The election will reveal real options.  The Republicans may feel a Supreme Court appointment is their last chance to effect the Supreme Court and feel it is a duty.  If the election is overwhelming they may realize the people have spoken, but we may have to deal with fanaticism.

A list of candidates from Joe Biden is not a good idea.  Whoever is included would be relentlessly criticized.  It would also hem in his future options.  My favorite candidate would be Barrack Obama, but that would stir up a lot of opposition.

There will be developments every day.  One effort will be to persuade four people that it is in their personal interest as well as the country's to not agree to a nomination.  They have to present the dangers to the public who in turn will help in the persuasion effort.

Who really has the power?  The people?  or the evangelicals? or the Trumpers?

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Parasite breaks an Oscar tradition

The buildup to this movie has been long.  It was predicted months in advance that it would win at least one Oscar.  Anyone who saw it instantly added it to their top prediction.  This despite the fact that a foreign subtitled movie had never won the best picture award. For myself, it took only a few minutes to determine the hype was well deserved including all three Oscars.  

The plot moves pretty steadily at the beginning  and while admiring the cleverness the last moves seem predictable.  But it was only half over.  Before too long twists occur.  You become increasingly conscious of class differences.

The set was designed with the script in mind.  Bong Joon Ho explained he wanted eavesdroppers could be seen and various actors could be seen in the background going up and down stairs.  The design was an architectual disaster.  He likes long takes with simultaneous action visible, some meant to be distracting. 

The theme is the clash between classes.  We see one family that scrounges to get by.  They were getting paid to fold pizza boxes and were criticized for some sloppy work with a cut in their pay.  Somehow they turned  it around to get full pay plus a conventional job.  They cannot escape their lower class origins with one signifier being smell.  They ponder how to deal with this (a young rich boy noticed the same smell from clothes of their "new" staff.  It turned out the smell came from living in a basement apartment.

Although life seems to be going smooth for both families, circumstances change.  At one point the Park family goes away on a family trip, but it is cut short by the weather.  The Ki Teuk family gathers in the house all together and talks about a great deal they are enjoying.  The Park family comes back unexpectedly while the poorer family hides, but overhears what the Park family really thinks of them.   A few developments and the atmosphere turns murky.  

Bong Joon Ho "Once you overcome the one inch barrier of subtitles you will be introduced to so many amazing films."  While in university majoring in sociology he became involved in demonstrations and felt the sting of ear gas.  One way of financing his education was with wedding videos.

Bong Joon Ho
Bong Joon Ho wrote, directed and produced, at first shorts.  An early film, "Memories of Murder" (2003) won many awards including at international film festivals.  "The Host" (2006), a horror film garnered international attention with both awards and box office.  In 2008 he became involved as a writer and directorof a Japanese film, "Tokyo!"  "Mother" (2009) was a mystery film winning more international awards.   In 2013, Bong Joon Ho wrote, directed and produced a major English language film "Snowpiercer"  with American stars (Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton) and crew mixed with Korean, American and Czech technicians.  In 2017 he did a joint American-Korean production, "Okja"  His projects are far apart as they require a lot of details.  "Parasite was released in 2019.  He is among only 9 directors who have won 3 Oscars for the same film--best director, best script and best film.  He is the second Asian director to win an Oscar for best      director after Ang Lee.

Kang-ho Sang plays the lower class father.  Have seen him in a variety of movie roles where he always seems to fit in, but without jarring my sensibilities.  He has been a favorite of Bong Joon Ho, but has been a number of prominent films:  "Memories of Murder" (2003), "The President's Barber" (2004),  "The Host" (2006), "Snowpiercer" (2013), "The Throne" (2015), "The Age of Shadows" (2016).  He had a part as an extra in "The Interview" (2014), the one the North Koreans were upset about.  

Woo-sik Choi plays the son Ki Woo who uses an unexpected opportunity to benefit his whole family.     Earlier he appeared in "Okja" and  "Train to Busan" (2016 a well done Zombie movie).  

Hye-jin Jang plays the lower class mother, Chung Sook.   In "Crash Landing on You" (2019-20) she played the prospective mother-in-law to the main hero and always was meddling.  

Meyeong-hoon Park played the head of the wealthy Park family.  He also played in "Crash Landing on You" in his next film.   That was one of my favorite tv. mini series--check it out:

All parts fit well together.  The plot is attention getting and before you realize it you are aware of relations between social classes in a way you might not previously thought of.  If this is one of your rare subtitled movies hopefully it will encourage you to explore more as there are many gems worth seeing. 

For more information on Korean films:

As usual the bolded titles are ones I have seen and in most cases are worth the effort to wtch.