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, feed 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, elections and voting rights, 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 brothers 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)

Another actor I didn't appreciate at the time was Mark Waschke who played the character Dorn in all three episodes.  He went on to appear in a few films I enjoyed, especially "The Billion Dollar Code" (2021). 

History we are told is written by the victors.  It is good to 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 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 of dollars 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 with 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 labor (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 it was that 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, the cinematographer 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.