Monday, June 27, 2022

Do Paise Ki Dhoop, Chaar Ki Baarish

This film had been completed in 2009 and as of March 2015 had not been released in India, although shown at film festivals.  Netflix is now offering it under LGBT selections, but it would appeal to a wider audience.  India is a conservative country and this must have offended some in critical positions to make it available to wider audiences.  The two lead characters are a prostitute and a homosexual.  They are brought together to care for her disabled son.

 The world is full of people struggling to survive and moreso to find some sort of meaning to their lives.  We learn the prostitute, Juhi turned to that profession after her husband abandoned her after he became aware of his son's physical incapacity.  The homosexual, Debu was a lyric writer who was not able to get paid for work he had done.  It was an unusual set of circumstances that brought the two together.  She had a problem getting a maid to take care of her son, Kaku.  Debu was right out of money and had no place to stay.  Juhi was at first repulsed with his offer thinking he didn't understand the demands of the job.  It required taking the son to the toilet, feeding him and putting up with his fits.  

Kaku was mute and communicated his desires by banging signals on a metal can.  Although mostly seen in a cheerful mood he could get upset, for instance at his mother entertaining strange men.  

Juhi was getting older and combined with her higher fees was losing customers.  She refused to lower her rates and became frustrated and more aggressive in trying to get customers.  Debu tries to stay out of it, but one can tell he doesn't approve.  Once she catches on to the fact that Debu is gay she tries to seduce him, but he is very resistant.  He seems to attract another gay and even leaves, but that doesn't work out.

Debu tries to get Kaku involved with more physical and social activities.  At one point he also tries to get him to make sounds that blend into words.  The most critical one was "Maa" and Kaku says it in front of his mother, but it turns out he prefers Debu to his mother which upsets her.  

There are many misunderstandings due to sexual issues that draw laughter.  Tears are brought to some because things are not working out.  But of course there is a happy ending.

This film won best screenplay at the New York Indian film Festival in 2009.  

 Deepti Naval was director, writer, editor and producer.  She had migrated with her family to the U.S. where she earned a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts and became involved with American Theatre.  She became an actress in India.  She was married to Prakash Jha, a prominent Indian director. writer and producer.  As an actress her credits include:  "Firaaq" (2008), "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" (2011).

Gulzar was a prominent lyrcist listed as a musical advisor.   Shared Oscar with A R Rahman for "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008).  A big award winner for lyrics.  Started back in 1960 with his early ones used in this film.  Some of his credits include:  "Bunty aur Babil" (2005), "Paheli" (2005), "Guru" (2007), "Jab Tak Hai Jaan" (2012), "Drishyam" (2015), "Raazi" (2018), "The Sky is Pink" (2019) and "Chhapaak" (2020).  Check out

Sandesh Shandilya wrote the music score.  Some of his credits include:  "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham..." (2001), "Socha Na Tha" (2005), "Jab We Met" (2007), "Road to Sangam" (2009).

Kiran Deohans was responsible for the cinematography.  His credits include:  "Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak" (2001), "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham..." 2001), "Jodhaa Akbar" (2008), "Agneepath" (2012),

Rajit Kapoor played the lead, Debu.  Credits include "Ghulam" (1998), "Shaitan" (2011), "Ki & Ka" (2016) and "Raazi" (2018).

Manisha Koirala played Juhi.  Born in Nepal and has appeared in many different languages.  She has been a United Nations ambassador and apeared with the Dalai Lama.  Credits include:  "Bombay" (1995), "Dil Se.." (1998) and "Sanju" (2018.)

Aanaj Naval played Kaku in his only listed film.  He a is nephew to Deepti.  He was very convincing as the handicapped youngster while at the same time very charming.

Old time Bollywood fans would enjoy some of the songs from earlier movies and word play.  The three main characters are surprisingly all very charming.  You will laugh and perhaps come close to tears.  The world and India have moved forward on LGBT issues and the good thing is it lets the rest of us better appreciate their contributions to society.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Steve Coogan in a Strong South African Movie

Steve Coogan is well established as a comedian and even though I also saw him in "Philomena" (2013) it can be hard to break an image. For me his role in "Shepherds and Butchers" (2017) settles the issue.  He is a professional actor with a good selection sense.

 "Shepherds and Butchers" is a court room drama, different than most I have seen.  It is set in South Africa during apartheid.  We see a cold blooded murder of seven blacks by a white man as they emerge from a van.  Everyone in the court concedes Leon did kill the seven men with no apparent motive.

Steve Coogan's character is the lawyer, John Weber who is mystified at first, but twigs onto the fact that Leon had worked in a prison on an execution team.  Leon had wanted to avoid military service and was offered the prison work as an alternative.  

His introduction to his duty of taking care of condemned men was very abrupt.  Within a day he participated in an execution of 7 black men simultaneously.  Many of the men were crying and a few wet their pants.  Their deaths were by hanging.  Later Leon learned one of his responsibilities was to measure the clothing so that death would be instantaneous.  He also helped to bury the men.

It is likely the bodies we witnessed being dropped were dummies, but one time an inmate only broke his neck but was still alive in agony.  The guards had to pull him up without touching him and drop him so that he died.   It seems most of the condemned men were black, but at least one white man who Leon had met with his family was included.  

John who was against the death penalty decided there was no point to denying his client had killed the 7 men, but was concerned what motive could drive a man to do such as cold blooded murder,  Leon did not want to talk about his experiences and the court didn't want to force him.  John asserted his rights and explained why he wanted to reveal Leon's job.  The reluctance to testify was nerve wracking.

We learn Leon has been separated from his wife and daughter after many arguments and fights.  He would not admit to feeling affected by what he was shamed into doing.  His lawyer kept pushing.  A clincher was when re enacting the events he learned that the trigger was the slamming of a van door being very similar to the drop of the hanging platform. 

Today we more conscious that those who do degrading work are diminished in the process.  It had been pointed out that Leon had not been tested for aptitude or trained.  

During the credits we were notified that South Africa had executed a large number of men.  After Nelson Mandela, gained power in 1994 executions were abolished.   It seems the film was meant to make points against capital punishment and employer abuse which it accomplished.

An unanswered question was if justice was achieved.  The aggrieved relatives were not satisfied.  We need to deal with the underlying causes such as poverty, abuse and neglect. 

Won an audience award at the Berlin Film Festival.

Oliver Schmitz was the director.    Born and raised in South Africa he was a co-owner of a nightclub that was able to defy segregation rules.  In 1988 his first feature, "Mapantsula" was anti apartheid film that at first was banned in South Africa, but afterwards won awards and had been shown at Cannes.  Most of his films have been in German and he now lives in Berlin.  He has done a few South African films usually with a racial theme.

Writer Brian Cox also produced.  His credits include  "Remember" (2015) and "Mandela:  Long Walk to Freedom" (2013).  

Chris Marnewick provided the inspiration with his first t novel.

Music was provided by Paul Hepker.  Some of is credits include:  Oscar winner "Tsotsi" (2005), "Rendition" (2007) and "Eye in the Sky" (2015)

Leah Striker was responsible for the cinematography.  Most of her films are in German and she has worked with Oliver Schmitz.

Megan Gill edited the film.  Earlier credits include  "The Ghost and the Dark" (1995), "Tsotsi" (2005), "Rendition" (2007) and Eye in the Sky" (2015).

Casting was done by Moonyeenn Lee who was born in South Africa, but moved to England where she formed a talent agency in 1974 and got into casting going back to South Africa.  Her credits include "Hotel Rwanda" (2004), "Tsotsi" (2005), "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" (2008), "The First Grader" (2010), "Safe House" (2012)"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" (2013) "Homeland" (2014) and "Eye in the Sky" (2015).  She died of Covid-19 complications.

Steve Coogan developed a reputation as a mimic; on one occasion he mimicked an interviewer.  Most famous movie "Alan Partridge" ( 2013) was about a mimic.  Other credits include "The Trip" (2010), "What Maisie Knew" (2012),  "Philomena" (2013), "Despicable Me 2" (2013)"Stan & Ollie" (2018).    Steve has also been involved as a producer and a writer.  He did a stand up comedian tour.

Garion Dowd played Leon.  He comes from an acting family with his mother a drama teacher while his father and brother are also actors.

Andrea Riseborough is a British actress whose credits include:  "Never Let Me Go" (2010), "Oblivion" (2013),  "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" (2014, "Witness for the Prosecution" (2016) and "Battle of the Sexes" (2017).

Steve Coogan proved to me at least that he is much more versatile actor than I had assumed.  The film he chose (or at least agreed to) is a film with a strong message.  I doubt few would be offended by the message, but many would find it too strong for their stomach.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Andrew Bacevich: The Age of Illusions

 Andrew Bacevich is a contemporary of Donald Trump, although they have never met they lived in what the Chinese like to call "interesting times."  Bacevich feels we have all been too obsessed with Trump, so much so that we have failed to understand the forces that made him possible.  

The Cold War ended between 1989 and 1991.  It was supposed to be about Capitalism and Communism and when the Soviet Union collapsed it was hailed as a victory for the freedom loving Capitalists.  Bacevich disagrees that underneath all the ideological rhetoric the real dynamic was for power.

For many it meant a loss of a defined enemy.  The Military became voluntary which attracted high school grads at poorer end of society.  University graduates and the better off declined to join the armed forces.  The American president became the most powerful man in the world as he can trigger a nuclear war.  There is a vetting process for presidential candidates and to be successful one must undergo scrutiny by Wall Street, the National Rifle Association, the Israel lobby, Koch Brothers, Evangelical churches among others.

During the Vietnam War, many either fought or resisted (by protests and draft dodging), but another group avoided it.  That included Donald Trump with more than one deferment.  Andrew Bacevich served in Vietnam and stayed in the military for 23 years and eventually became professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

George W. H. Bush was the first post Cold War president and one of his accomplishments was a successful limited war.  

Bill Clinton was very astute and charismatic.  Amongst other things he broke up restrictions for banks that later led to problems.  Pushed globalization which meant expanding U.S. trade with many American jobs being taken over by lower wage countries.  Considered risk averse he did authorize military actions in Somalia and the Balkans.

George W. Bush surrounded himself with "experienced" politicians who helped drag him into the Iraq War.  At one time he answered the rhetorical question, "Why do they hate us?' with the answer "They hate our freedom." 

Barack Obama seemed he would be a peacemaker, but got involved in mid East conflicts and Libya.  Infuriated some by negotiating the Iranian Peace Agreement and the Paris  Climate Change agreement.  Obamacare got off to a rocky start with much resistance.  Gay marriage became legal nationwide in 2015 with large parts of the country stunned by this new freedom.  Of course anything done by a black man would be resented by segments of the population.

As we approach the 2016 election, Bacevich draws our attention to the state of the nation.  Poverty on the increase, retirement savings diminished for many, homelessness on the upswing, opioid deaths at new record, 24.7 million fatherless children, 40% divorce rate, highest incarceration rate in the world, 40 million regular visitors to porn sites, 33,000 killed by firearms.  In short a lot of despair.

A lot of candidates offered to run the gauntlet.  Hillary Clinton expected an easy nomination, but ran up against Bernie Sanders who put up a strong fight.  He believed that without economic democracy there could be no political democracy.  Hillary with a slick presentation was able to finally win the Democratic nomination, over the man labeled a socialist.

On the Republican side, tv. celebrity Donald Trump assessed the situation better than his opposition.  Despite his libertine reputation he was able to garner evangelical support as unlike his rival for their support, Ted Cruz because he was more credible to bring about an abortion ban.   Michael Cohen had another perspective on this angle (and others).   Although easily criticized Trump was loved by the media who gave him a free platform for his message. 

Donald Trump is criticized for dividing the country, but Bacevich claims it was already divided and Trump not only recognized it, but was able to exploit it.

The book was published in 2019 and Bacevich was well aware of many flawed policies of Trump as well as his behavior and he was uncertain about the 2020 election.  He felt "...American politics will almost surely remain a forum for hyperbolic promises."  He would like to see stewardship replace the notion of increasing consumption.  He also feels freedom should have obligations as well as rights.

American technology has boosted speed, efficiency and precision, but has tended to convenience and relief from boredom which has allowed corporations to gain greater control of our lives.  We are close to the limit of how much we can tame nature and some acknowledge climate change is only one risk, with others including pollution, littering of plastic, deforestation, etc.  America is losing its political and cultural domination of the world.

In conclusion Bacevich maintains real necessary change will not come from the top down.  In the past Americans have rallied around causes that forced government action, such as abolition and the Depression.  He suggests a worthy and necessary cause is climate change which could lead to "a conception of citizenship that seeks to harmonize individual freedom with the common good."  His last sentence, "For Americans to shirk that responsibility will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps--or someone worse-to come."

Not sure how he would react to the January 6th insurrection, except as proof there are more factors involved than worship of Trump and that some elites will go to great lengths for power.  One hopes that Americans will wake up and realize there are higher priorities than hating others and overcome an egocentric view that they are "exceptional."  It will be difficult for Americans to accept they are only part of huge world.

Friday, June 17, 2022

My Best Mistake

 Is this compatible with my previous blog on Regrets?  On one hand this is about how people have overcome an obstacle/mistake to gain further success and claim they don't regret and in fact are glad for the obstacles.  On the other hand I would suggest they each handled a setback that most would regret in hindsight by dealing with it in a better manner.  Daniel Pink would tell you that problems offer opportunities.

The world of sports reveals many mistakes, particularly for a manager who has to decide who to draft, and who to play.  One example was Scotty Bowman, considered to be one of the best hockey brains made a mistake that could have ended his career before it got launched.  After an injury cut his hockey playing days short he had been given an opportunity to work with Sam Pollock.  One of his tasks had been to notify players that they didn't make the cut.  When a young Serge Savard showed up expecting accommodation, a few months after it was embarrassing and costly as he should have been notified.  It is hard to pinpoint who really made the mistake, but Scotty's job was on the line.  Before too long the mistake was  smoothed over and Serge went on to be a Montreal top player and Scotty went on to become one of the top hockey coaches of all time.

 Politics offers a lot of opportunities for mistakes.  It is very easy to offend someone and if you offend the wrong one it can be disastrous.  Bill Maher and the Dixie Chicks suffered for being outspoken.

Shortly after the 9/11 attack, a guest on Bill's show, Dinesh D'Souza made a statement that the attackers were not cowards.  Bill agreed , "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles away.  That's cowardly.  Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."  Sponsors backed out and critics led a charge that resulted in cancellation and blocked Bill's employment.  Eventually he returned to television as many did respect his honesty and he was able to maintain a provocative stance.

Steve Jobs is one of the most interesting characters discussed.  For me some new information was provided or maybe it was a reminder.   His birth mother requested her son be adopted by two college graduates, but initial effort failed and she had to be persuaded to accept two parents who had dropped out of high school, but turned out to be helpful for an innovator.  As usual it is difficult to read about Jobs without describing him as an "asshole," but he is deemed to have offsetting qualities.  After setting up Apple and proving his genius he offended board members so much that they forced him out of his own company.  Twelve years later he returned and helped launch Apple into its current maga status.

Mario Puzo is best known for "The Godfather." (1972), but the main reason he wrote it was to pay off gambling debts.  Gambling would be a big mistake that just keep putting him in a deeper hole.  He had written two books that received good reviews and was able to eke out a living with magazine articles and editing.  He wanted to be taken as a serious writer and resisted turning an outline (presented to get some needed cash) into an actual book.  With his back against the wall he did do the book, but along the way made another mistake--he accepted a low offer for the movie rights.  Partly in compensation he was offered to write the movie script which won him his first of two Oscars. 

Farmer's Almanac had one secret formula and one incredible fluke (a fortuitous mistake).  A brother in law of mine used to quote their weather predictions, one of which was a little off.  Going back to the founder Robert B. Thomas felt he needed a weather forecast for his annual reference guide.  Surprisingly he was able learn about Galileo's observation about sun spots that affected our global weather in an 11 year cycle.  That  worked pretty good, but one year 1816, the owner had been ill and unable to write the forecast.  When pressed he joked there would be snow in July.  It was recognized as a mistake, but it was too late to destroy all the printed copies.   A massive volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies  and its dust circled the earth lowering temperatures which resulted in July snow in the United States.  This helped to consolidate the reputation for the Farmer's Almanac.

Other covered notable celebrities that overcame mistakes include Billy Joel, Brian Williams, Steve Spielberg and Seth MacFarlane.

While many of us wallow in our mistakes and failings others have learned, persisted and overcome them.  Some mistakes are actually innovative and good luck.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Cosmos: Revisited 40 years later

The title is well explained by Carl Sagan,  "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."  He further points out genetic connection between trees and animals.  In effect this subject is the most all encompassing blog I have ever attempted.

 Originally released to PBS in 1980,I can remember viewing it in parts with Dan Lovranski, a second cousin to my wife.   This version had updates and another more recent version with Neil DeGrasse Tyson is further updated.  A copy of the book has been on my shelf for a few decades and proved useful.

Science can be difficult to explain to non scientists.  They used animated segments, art work dramatized video reenactments.  Locations visited, included Siberia, Alexandria,Egypt; Calcutta, India; a Navajo reservation, Angkor Wat, Rome, Paris and Tokyo.  Carl Sagan is a good showman and very articulate presenting his case,

 Carl Sagan, not only was a legitimate scientist but has been a popularizer of science which some resented.  He inspired many and was thought provoking   Carl Sagan suffered a lot of criticism for his popularizing efforts, but also was able to penetrate the public's disregard for science.  For some he opened the door to a more detailed study of science and how science impacts public issues.  There is room for detailed studies, but honestly they don't have the impact with the public if they cannot be explained.  It is a similar skill to putting an 800 page book into a two hour movie--something gets left out and something is subject to distortion.

Carl was an advisor to NASA and helped develop some of the ideas.  Robotic mobile equipment and determining difficult landing choices.  He helped develop message to aliens on a disc to include different languages, music and mathematics symbols.  He failed to make contact with aliens.  The odds indicate there must be other developed life forms.  One speculation was that perhaps as other societies reach the technical capabilities to communicate they self-destruct, which hopefully makes us take a closer look at our own projection.  He advocated for more robotic missions rather than manned flights.

The concepts of infinity and eternity are incomprehensible.  He gives examples of large numbers and pointed no matter how large number one can devise you can always add one to make an even bigger number.   Sagan points out the Hindu religion is the only religion that deals with the infinite universe.  In addition to long time scales they have the concept of destruction and rebirth.  

He suggests perhaps the spark of life may have come from meteors. Likely life was one cellular for millions of years, but gradually we evolved towards the variety we see today.  Sagan points out that all life is connected including trees and humans.  Plants need carbon dioxide while animals need oxygen.  Plants convert energy from the sun that provide animals with energy and building blocks.   The brain evolved and Sagan points out we all have a connection to a reptile brain.  He speculates may that aliens might have  more developed neuron system that allows them to think much faster. 

Knowledge  is accumulated gradually.  One of the early breakthroughs was from Erastothenes, a scientist in Alexandria was able to calculate the circumference of the world by the shadows of a stick in two different parts of Egypt.  He posted that the world was about 40,000 kilometres around and that was amazingly close considering the primitive tools available.  

Science is built on small understandings.  Isaac Newton made a big breakthrough regarding gravity, but admitted that  "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."  Sagan recounts many small steps with such as Euclid, Hypatia, Johannes Kepler, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and many others.

The Russians were first to land a rocket on another planet, Venus.    We learned about the surface beneath an impenetrable cloud like atmosphere that was essentially lifeless.  Sagan was one of the ones that realized there was a greenhouse effect and further considered such a prospect could be in earth's future.

Mankind is vain, including many leaders and would be leaders.  Too many of us take for granted our good life and assume the best is yet to come.  As "Cosmos" points out life is fragile. It has taken billions of years for life to evolve to its current point with humans on top of the ladder.  Knowledge has gradually built up and  we truly do understand much more than our ancestors, but it has gone through many dark periods where we have lost many thoughts and calculations.   Best to remember that species have died, civilizations have disappeared, even stars die.  Climate change and a nuclear winter are real risks. Last episode was about the big risk--did other civilizations self destruct--nuclear war--lost knowledge

Communication with foreigners has always been a challenge, but more so with aliens.  Sagan suggests we look at animals, especially whales who have shown ability to "speak" over thousands of kilometers. Cuneiform writing on rocks was an early precursor led more sophisticated form and with the invention of paper, ink, and printing on wooden blocks in China.  Moveable printing in Europe allowed the more rapid spread of information.  Now of course ideas spread electronically.  Writing allows us to communicate across ages and over great distances where before we relied on word of mouth.

 Misinformation and misunderstandings are common.   Wild speculations (including his own) can capture the public's fancy, but real breakthroughs generally come through tedious calculations.

In short, Carl Sagan opened up our awareness to the Cosmos.   We are really very small, but part of a glorious entity.  Will we learn how to get along?  Will we use the accumulated wisdom of the year for a happy future? 

Earlier blog:

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Servant of the People: Final Episodes

Previously I was able to watch the first season.  After awhile Netflix offered the remaining two seasons.  More recently was I able to fiinish the series.  What makes it unique is it ended because Zelensky became the actual president of Ukraine.  Check:

 It is not a coincidence  Throughout the series there was a lot of satire comedy, but the last few episodes had the feel of a campaign. 

Much of the humor was local.  Donbass, Luhansk and Crimea were mentioned, even the USSR.  A reference to Galicia where some of my wife's family came from.  One censored bit was a joke made regarding Putin's Hublot watch that had been used for an anti-Putin chant.

Zelensky was cast as an opinionated history teacher whose students liked his views.  Over the series he is portrayed in conversations with Plutarch, Abraham Lincoln, Ivan the Terrible among a few others.   There were pleas for national unity realizing there is strength in diverse unity.

The over riding issue from start to finish seems to be corruption.  In the first seasons Zelensky is always fighting corruption.  Near the end Zelensky is jailed as he has upset corrupt factions that are able to cook up phony charges.  He is rescued by international forces and some honest Ukrainians who realize his sincerity and honesty.  

The last 2 episodes to be honest seem like campaign advertising.  It seems idealistic (like many campaign promises), but Zelensky seems like a leader.   A segment has been added in the last episode that looks back on the events of 2015-2019 where promises made have led to a much better life.  Medical students who at first weren't interested but in reality had taken the good life for granted.  A campaign promise was to pay back debts as main mission to earn real independence.  Another one was to advocate for language equality--Zelensky's first language as with many other Ukrainians is Russian.

On March 31st, 2018 a political party was registered with the government, taking the name of the show.  On April 21, 2019 Zelensky was elected president.

From my first blog the available information of the crew was very sketchy and is now a little better.  Am listing some partly because I fear they may be lost to history.  

Writing staff included Andr Yakoviev, Oleksiy Kiryushchenlo, Yuriy Kostyuk, Yuriy Mykulenko with  Volodymyr Zelensky a creator and also a producer.

Serhiy Koshael was the cinematographer.  Andriy Kiryushchenko wrote music.

The series had been telecast not only in Ukraine, but also Belorussia  (in prime time) and even Russia. After the Russian invasion over twenty nations picked up the series including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova and Finland.

Ukraine is under fire.  Putin's ego has put him in a corner.  The easy romp turned out to be more difficult.  Many of his own people have turned against him.  He belittles Zelensky, but in fact Zelensky is perhaps the most admired leader in the world  He says the right thing and talks to the world.    Perhaps his producer background has taught him the importance of marketing. He has been allowed to talk to many international parliaments and has talked with such popular cultural institutions as the Cannes Film Festial.

Financial squeeze is not as total as it could be as some countries are resistant, mostly autocracies asSaudi Arabia, but also much of South America, Africa, India.  China has tried to keep a distance, but is wary of the example that could be used against it regarding Taiwan    One worries that Putin will be desperate, but helpless.  The U.S. has picked up a battle axe and marshaled other nations to send weapons and financial support.  One result has been the price of gas and for many it will be the price of food.  

As you watch you have the advantage of a backward view of history.  Tv. is not real, but it does express idealism and you can appreciate the leadership of Zelensky.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Jana Gana Muna

At first the story seemed confusing, a dead body picked up, then I thought I picked out a hero, then he did something very brutal.  Mobs were yelling and screaming and being beaten.  That was in the first half.  The case went to court opened up in different directions. Then one could see the cold relevance to events elsewhere in the world.  I am reminded of the January 6th hearing and how crowds were whipped to a frenzy.

Huge twists, but more importantly were the underlying social structure and the people who wanted to gain power against the common people.  Corruptions and manipulation with some surprising resistance. 

The plot is key.  You think you know what will happen and anticipate the twists, but until near the end it seems just like another courtroom drama.  It is hard to imagine the court room procedures are normal, but they serve to make a few points.  Apparently a sequel is in the works. 

The dialogue is Malayalam and available in other regional languages, but English is prominent in the court room.  Lately I have increased my Malayalam selections as many of them are outstanding.

One of my favorite type of films.  A surprise ending (with a hint for more to come) with a message.  The message is a local one (India with its peculiar social structure), but with global implications for human nature.

Dijo Jose Antony was the director in only his second film.  He has acted and been a playback singer.

Sharis Mohammed was the writer in only his fourth film.  His first was also the first for Dijo Jose Antony

Jakes Bejoy composed the music.  Had done "Forensic" (2020).

Sudeep Elamon was the cinematographer with nine film credits beforehand.

Sreejith Sarang was the editor.  Mostly worked in Tamil cinema.

Mammootty narrated the story.  He had trained and practicised as a lawyer.  He is a very prolific award winning actor with over 400 film credits.  His films include "Bhoothakkannadi" (1997), "Kerala Varma Pazhassirajua" (2009) "Karutha Pakshikal" (2006), "Varsham" (2014) "Pathemari" (2015) and my favorite movie seen in 2020, "Peranbu" (2018)

Prithviraj Sukumaran plays an activist lawyer.  He has been in mostly Malayalam films, but also Tamil, Telgu and Hindi.  Whilt in hischool perormed and plays and debated.  He went to the University of Tasmania to study engineering, but got sidetracked with film roles.  Films include "Urumi:  the Warriors Who Wanted to Kill Vasco Da Gama" (2011), Koode" (2018),

Suraj Venjaramoodu played the police officer who you thought you knew, but he is more complicated than first impressions.  Has over 250 credits since 2002 including "Pulimurugan" (2016) and "Thundi Muthalum Driksakshiyum" (2017) and "Vikruthi" (2019) and "The Great Indian Kitchen" (2021)

Mamta Mohandas in flashbacks the dead teacher.  She has appeared in "Forensic" (2020).  She won a playback singer in 2006.

A film containing a lot of emotion.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

EE Nagaraniki Emaindhi

Have you ever wondered where writers get their ideas?  Or what is involved in getting a film produced?   Some writers choose to write about writing and sometimes it can be interesting.  Many critics and viewers have noted a superior dialogue for this movie.   It seems natural to take liberties, but the film claims "based on almost true stories."  

The plot is about four friends who while in college made a short film, but since then have gone their separate ways.  United by an interest in making films they get together and coincidentally are approached by an attractive promotions woman Shirley who uncovers their background and interests.  Vivek had written and directed short films.  Karthik was managing a club and had been promised his own club if he would marry the boss's daughter.  Kaushik wanted to be an actor, but was dubbing for films.  Uppa was a wedding photographer.  All of them had worked on Vivek's short film.  Shirley steers them to a short film contest held in Goa.  The topics are assigned by lottery and Vivek draws romance which after a breakup he won't do.  Then later out of desperation he relents.  They recruit a few local actors including Shirley.

Short films are ignored by many, but they are a training ground for future feature film makers.  The 4 friends take on different tasks, writing directing, acting, camera, editing, music, etc. The script changes after many discussions to make a more effective film.

The weird title  that translates to " What Happened to this City?"  

Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam was both director and writer and one suspects he has undergone many of the trials depicted in his second feature.  He graduated from the New York Film Academy.  After a few shorts, (one of which was shown at Cannes) his first feature was "Pelli Choopulu" (2016) which received awards for feature and script.   This film was his second feature.  His wife Latta worked on production and costume design for his first two features. 

D. Suresh Babu was the producer.  Noted for "Eega" (2012), "Drushyam II" (2014)

Vivek Sagar wrote the music.  An earlier film was "Pelli Choopula (2016).  He has been a playback singer.

Niketh Bommi was the cinematographer.  Earlier films include "Soorarai Pottru" (2020).

Ravi Teja Girijala was the editor.  Other films include "Pelli Choopulu" (2016), and "C/O Kancharapalem" (2018).

Vishwak Sen played Vivek.  He has also directed one film.

Sai Sushanth Reddy played Karthik in his first film.

Abhinav Gomatam played Kaushik  He went on to do "Shyam Singha Roy"  (2021). 

Anisha Ambrose played Shirley.

Vijay Deerakonda made a cameo appearance in the same year as "Arjun Reddy" (2018).  "Pelli Choopula" (2016) was an early boost to his career.

 The viewer can think of this as a buddy movie or a road movie, but I think of it as a writer's movie.

Another recently viewed movie giving a perspective from another writer.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

The Power of Regret

 The title seems counter intuitive. We are taught to forget about our past failures and move forward.  Daniel Pink did not let me down as he takes a closer look and tells us how to use our regrets to further our life.  This is a deep book that cannot be read without a lot of personal reflection.  As its subtitle claims you will understand "How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward."

Pink starts with a story about how a famous song got started.  If you know Edith Piaf, you probably have heard "Non, Je ne regrette rien."  The author contends despite the memorable song she had lots of regrets.  She would not otherwise be considered human as she dealt with several relationship breakups, poor health and addiction problems.

 We all do have regrets, but they contain many differences that can help us understand better.  The author is able to suggest different strategies to deal with regrets and even suggests how you can turn the concept to your benefit.  There are many scientific studies and anecdotes to illustrate different perspectives that guide one to cope with feelings of regret.

At one point he identifies four types:  Foundation, Boldness, Moral and Connectivity.  

Foundation refers to the concept of regretting you didn't better prepare for the future, in fact were focused on enjoying life as it happened.  A favorite quote from Bobby Knight "The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win."  Winning or getting the most out of life requires a conscious effort.

Boldness refers to not taking a risk.  Asking someone you wish to know better out.   Or going into business.  You regret the missed opportunity.  Jeff Bezos had a high paying job, but felt the future would be tied to the inter-net and he could make a lot o money selling books on the inter-net.  He quit his job and invested all he could into this new venture that became Amazon.  How he reasoned was to project himself to the age 80 and realized he would regret not taking this risk and at the same time would not regret if his risk failed.  In other words like many regrets it focuses on what was not tried rather than actions that failed.

Moral refers to violations of right behavior.  You felt coerced into something that you at the time and certainly later on was wrong.  It could be not speaking up against abusive behavior.  It could be joining in on some form of abuse.  Morality does mean different things to different people and Pink draws upon Jonathan Haidt speaks of a moral foundation that we all have that for many include issues others might not think of that way.  One example might be respect for parents.  Pink comments that Haidt affected his thinking and he also did mine.

Connectivity to the breaking of relationships.  Childhood friends who drift away or an event causes a disruption of a friendship or estrangement within a family.  Pink uses an example of woman who drifted away from one of her closest friends and then regretted and fear the break.  At different parts of the book he refers to the relationship while in the writing process.  At the end they both are grateful for a reconciliation while the author admits it may not always work out. 

A Chinese proverb says "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.  The second best time is right now."  Accept you can't change the past, but can do better for the future.  

Often you are harder on yourself than you would be with a friend or even a stranger.  One strategy is self compassion.  Ask yourself if a stranger came to you with the same predicament would you be kind?  Do you feel your regret is unique? or do you feel others share it?   Is your regret an unpleasant moment or does it define your life?  Aligned with this strategy talk of yourself in the third person--doing away with "I" may help distance yourself.

 An interesting application was used by staff at Duke University who wanted to increase a response to a survey.  They offered a draw for a gift certificate and split the survey recipients into two groups.  In one group they were told everyone was entered into the draw.  The second group were told that if they hadn't returned the survey they would not be eligible for the prize.  Not surprisingly the second group returned a higher rate of the surveys.  In the second group apparently individuals wanted to avoid missing the prize and this phenomena was labeled "loss aversion."  In other words they anticipated a regret winning the draw, but losing eligibility.  Some of this thinking was part of the Covid 19 vaccination strategy as some were concerned that if they weren't tested or vaccinated they would regret passing on the virus.

A movie seen many years ago struck me as a courageous way of dealing with regret. In "bachna ae haseeno" (2008) A young man  played by Ranbir Kapoor, about to embark on a new love looked back at some romantic relationships and felt very guilty for how he treated the women.  As it turned out he ended up visiting India, Switzerland, Italy and Australia in an effort to apologize.  The women had all moved on with their lives and in some cases he managed to make their lives smoother.  It had a happy ending, partly because he overcame his regrets and of course the script called for it. 

We all have regrets and as the author guides us we can turn many of them to benefits.  Read the book; this blog is only a sketchy introduction to something that could change your life.

I would like to close with two quotes and a website.

James Baldwin's quote is at the beginning:  "Though we would like to live without regrets and sometimes proudly insist that we have none, that is not really possible, if only because we are moral."

The author ends his book and research with:  "After a few years immersed in the science and experience of our most misunderstood emotion, I've discovered about myself what I discovered about others.  Regret makes me human.  Regret makes me better.  Regret gives me hope."

To get a feel for the book check out (and contribute which I did) to his website:

An earlier blog on Daniel Pink;s "To Sell is Human"

An earlier  blog on Daniel Pink's   "A Whole New Mind" 

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

My Two Cats are my Pandemic Saviours

Retirement came  about 8 months before the Covid Pandemic started changing our lives.  My wife retired within the first few weeks.   I had started helping immigrants to practice English giving me some structure and purpose, but it was an early casualty.  Various restrictions came and went, at one point most stores were closed or tough measures taken including masks and limited accessibility.  Any regular readers of my blogs might have noticed an increase in frequency.  I watched more films.  Although things have opened up it still seems frustrating.  We had planned trips to New Zealand and/or Italy, but  they seem years away.  Things are looking up a bit, but time to reflect on our cats that helped us get through.

I didn't always like cats:

Mary Ditta, at work was my cat consultant.  She encouraged me to get a second cat when a young stray kitty approached us.  She also thought it a good idea to get a second cat, even a male to be a companion for the one already at home.

We decided years ago our cats would be indoor cats.  However one escaped during a pre Christmas gathering and we were unable to locate her.  On her own she returned a few weeks later just around Christmas looking the worse for wear.  Indoor cats live longer.

Our two cats had spent a lot of time alone and we had wondered what they do.  Except for a few incidents they mostly slept.  Probably partly boredom, but also conserving their energy.  How do they amuse themselves?   They both are addicted to boxes and an empty laundry basket which sometimes is carried with them in it.  Two cats amuse each other, but are also rivals for our attention  Hiding is one of their activities to play with us.  They are territorial with each other to some extent, but very upset with birds or animals that appear to invade their territory.

 For a time I worked for a Chinese pet bed wholesaler.  The Chinese connection was something I did not seek, but had been recruited by a man who had been given my name by two of my pet retail customers.  In the end he died in an accident and I learned he had been lied to thinking he had an exclusive area.  On a call to Vancouver I actually was talking to the manager in China itself.

 Some say cats (and dogs) provide unconditional love, but that seems a bit lopsided for me.   Feeding time has many rituals.  We sometimes try to defer their gratification, but are not enough consistent.  Cats are more independent than dogs and although felines can bug you for food and other times want to be stroked they can walk away and resist your attempts to get their attention.

The purr of a cat is one of the most satisfying sounds in the world.  You can't take it for granted, but seems like a reward for putting up with their more common aloofness and even demands.

For a brief time I had been recruited to help sell a new type of kitty litter.  One of my pet retailers had a friend with a son who had developed a new litter product in Mexico.  I learned a bit of the story.  The inventor was a Canadian who had moved to Mexico and somehow got involved in trying to develop a lighter kitty litter that old ladies could easily lift.

This led to finding a plant from Mexico that was much lighter than conventional litter.  He tried to discover a clumping agent and while eating with his mother (who had recovered from cancer) noticed flax worked for clumping.  Made contact with flax manufacturer in western Canada.  The product was tested in Mexico City at a rescue charity.  It seemed to work.  Each night the manager put litter through a sifter that made it easier to deal with a large number of cats.

A big sales pitch for me was that everything else I sold slowed down in the winter.  Kitty litter actually is more needed in the winter as cats allowed outdoors don't bother with litter in the good weather, but in the winter they spend more time indoors and their owners are forced to deal with the unpleasant smell.

Unfortunately my cats did not like the new litter and refused to use it.  Also as a small business owner, my friend overlooked many marketing details some of which were pointed out to me by another of my pet retailers.  They had a nice interesting story about how the product had been developed, but when packaged the story was inaccessible to the casual observer.  Although I got a few retailers to try it, the owners were so discouraged that they stopped manufacturing it. 

Each cat has its own personality.  The first time we had two cats, the second one was a stray and we saw a little resentment, but no fighting in our presence.  The stray was the more active of the two and would scare us with jumping up to a second story rail and seemed to enjoy our reaction which was mainly fear she would fall.   When Maggie left us we were surprised Molly seemed more listless and didn't live as much longer as we expected.   The not so pleasant aspect of living with cats:

The second pair of cats were closer in the sense of when we got them.  The second cat, Oscar, a male (the black and white one above) was more aggressive and at first shoved Izzy, the older, larger female cat aside to eat out of the same food bowl.  This was so exasperating for me that I sometimes picked him up and put behind a door to give the female a chance to eat in piece.  Izzy's reaction was unexpected as she went upstairs where we had closed Oscar behind the bathroom door and waited outside.  Over time that changed as Oscar actually although more active was smaller and it seemed strange that they took turns being more aggressive, but generally tolerant.  They do play and it amazes me that the smaller one is more aggressive.

Curiosity is a trait associated with cats.  We admire it with human inventors, but laugh at cats.  Laughter is supposed to extend your life or at least make it more enjoyable.  My two cats provide a lot of laughter either when playing with each other, acting as rivals or trying to get our attention. The Dalai Lama has been a good model with the merits of laughter and my cats provide the opportunities.  A dab of peanut butter on my finger has become a ritual with Oscar that makes me laugh at his antics.   He plays cool and makes me chase him and reassuring, then he gets serious and obviously loves the flavor. 

The pandemic has been an ordeal.  Retirement was supposed to be a time to enjoy life, do some travel and to do meaningful things.  We are all making adjustments and I am grateful my cats have made it easier.  

Quietly watching my cats I have time to think and ponder.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

#Home: Comedic clash of generations

 High ratings got my attention, plus I have found Malayalam films mostly to live up to their ratings.  Tracked it down to Prime.  My new top movie of 2022.  It sneaks up on you, but is very pleasant while you are waiting for you don't know what.

The main character, Oliver Twist lives with his father, wife and two sons.  He got his name from his father who used to translate English books to Malayalam and was struck by the name "Oliver Twist."  He named a daughter Mary Poppins.  Oliver Twist named his sons, Antony Oliver Twist and Charles Oliver Twist.  The father still likes to quote from the Charles Dickens book.  Oliver is retired, seems to be fairly well off (very nice house with large fish tank), but as one son said has not done anything extraordinary and has not kept up with the times.

  One of the sons really is just visiting while he tries to finish a film script in peace.  Both of Oliver's sons are very adept with social media.  The father feels left out and buys a smart phone, but needs a lot of help to use it.  Unfortunately by accident  (really covering up his inability to turn off one program)  he unintentionally starts a live video broadcasts of his eldest son Antony criticizing a co-worker that has a negative impact on his film ambitions.

The Oliver Twist family has a social relationship with Antony's in-laws.  In fact his father in law, Joseph is having a book published that they are all looking forward to.  The whole family gets along with son's in-laws.

Oliver talks to a psychologist , Dr. Franklin who thinks he is the son's father in law (or friend).  Oliver admits to a sleeplessness allowing for some physical comedy to follow.  Tai chi routine is clumsily joined.   Oliver is soon being taught smart phone and learning new uses.  He also develops smoother Tai chi.

Antony is frustrated trying to write a note to a producer and decides his father's penmanship would make a better impression.  Apparently the use of modern electronics supplants traditional ways of communicating.  Oliver finally recalls an event to his son from 48 years ago.  Antony is amused, but apparently not very impressed.

Antony upset his wife by phone at birthday celebration.   The psychologist explains that smart phone is stealing time from Antony's wife, Priya and compares to a cigarette addiction.

Antony had quit a job to go full into film, but running into finance problems.  His in-laws visit during rain storm and in the end Oliver and his wife feel belittled.

Near the end there is a celebration about Antony's father in law and the biographical book about him.  Antony bragged his father in law was a man of accomplishments, unlike his own father.  Very subtly there is a twist in the plot.  The end credits show most of the family taking part in Tai Chi and a few other activites.

At the end Antony claims "I'm always imperfect at my home. "  The sentiment was captured in a song that I bought.

Rojin Thomas, wrote and directed.  This is only his third feature, previously he wrote and directed two child oriented movies, the first of which was very successful, but the second not so much.  This film gives a writer's perspective of the agony of getting filmed.  Along the way we get a young perspective of an older generation that has not kept up, but nonetheless have merit. 

Vijay Babu, producer  and played psychologist Dr.Franklin.  He produced and won award for "Philip and the Monkey Pen" (2013), Rojin's first film and also produced "June" (2019)

The background music was by Rahul Subrahmanian who also wrote the music for Rojin Thomas's first two films.

Neil  D'Cuncha handled the cinematography.  One shot that may startle you is of a big fish in a big tank

Editing was handled by Prejish Prakash.  He had edited for "Khatta Meetha" (2010), "Philips and the Monkey Pen" (2013) and "Kilometers and Kilometers" (2020).

Indrans who plays Oliver Twist started as a tailor and did costume designs for films.  Since then he has performed in over 300 films, mostly comical and supportive.  A slim, gangly body build and an accent lends itself to comedy  The two of his I have seen were not comedies.  One, "Aalorukkam" (2018) has a very big surprise for him when he tracks down his estranged son after 17 years, but afterwards I was surprised to learn that the Malayalam culture is much more socially progressive than I assumed.  The other film was "Virus" (2019).

Sreenath Bhasi played the film writer and eldest son, Antony Oliver Twist.  He has been in numerous Malayalam films such as "Ustad Hotel" (2012), "Parava" (2017), "Kumbalangi Nights" (2019) and "Virus" (2019), 

Johny Anthony played Suryan, Oliver's friend from childhood.    He has appeared in "Varane Avashyamund" (2020), "Love" (2020) and "Hridayam" (2022).   

Deepa Thomas, played Priya, wife of Antony.  She also appeared in "Virus" (2019).

Much like my previous top film, the ending is beautiful makes the whole film seem worth the high rating and the characters hold your attention throughout. 

I discovered or really stumbled about Malayalam films and am enjoying.  Here is a bit about my breakthrough and includes some of the bolded movies:

Another good film that demonstrates the writing process for someone wanting to produce a film.

As usual films I have seen are bolded at first mention.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Boss, Anatomy of a Crime

This film got my attention by accident.  Bored with offered selections, went through a long list of Netflix suggestions before I found "The Boss, Anatomy of a Crime" ( El Patron, radiografis de un crimen 2014).  It had a good rating, but the descriptions made it seem "different" and unique.  It was about a killing which is common enough, but there was none of the usual mystery.  The story was about an exploited man who responded to abuse.  My film selections are intended to give more attention to those that might be overlooked in the over hyped entertainment marketing.  With subtitles is in English and set in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 We are first introduced to a lawyer after a murder case trying to find some mitigating circumstances for a client who not only admits his guilt, but that he was enraged at the time.  The story then flashes back to how Hermogenes gets hired by Latuada, the owner of 8 butcher shops who treats an existing butcher with physical brutality.  Hermogenes seem a little stunned, but accepting and assuring he can do a good job.  The owner suggests Hermogenes move to the back room of the shop to be closer to the job.  

We flip between before a killing and to the court case.  There are several flips, but with little effort they make it easier to understand the story. 

Wife of lawyer, Clara seemingly annoyed by her husband's interest in what seems like a hopeless case eventually gets involved and she becomes very supportive of Hermognese and his wife.

Hermonogenes feels guilty and fatalistic.  When asked about his boss, he says he was not nice, but "God didn't make him nice."

Near the end we see the actual killing and it is brutal.  It seems like very little provocation, but we would be anticipating some very strong and personal criticism after a customer had returned some bad meat.  Afterwards we gain the lawyer perspective that said there had been a long buildup (much of which we did see).  Because of the job, Hermonogenes happened to have a knife in his hands when reached a boiling point.

The police and the prosecutors laughed at what an open and shut case this was because of the very candid confession.  They termed it aggravated murder and called for a life sentence.  The lawyer made a stirring speech to the effect of the pressures put on Hermonogenese including some criticism of the gov and the final sentence was for homicide under the heat of passion.

Based on true events. 

It is set in a butcher shop and some of it may be upsetting as not only do they show cutting meat, they also show how they spray stuff to hide rotted meat and how to cover it up with color agents.  Ironically Argentina is known world wide for their quality beef.

Sebastian Schindel was director, editor and co-writer.  He read the book and was shaken by the description of exploitation and slavery.  He met with viewers who told him similar stories of exploitation.  When asked to help with groups to work against what was called "cultural slavery" he agreed.  Sebastian started his film career in 2000 and has been a writer, a director, editor and producer.

Nicolas Batlle writer and producer has been involved with "The German" (2013).  He has not only written and produced scripts, but also been a director.

Javier Olivera, co-writer got started as a painter and later attended film studies at UCLA.  He had directed a series of films for UNICEF.  He teaches screenwriting and directing at Uruguay Film Campus.

Guillermo Pfening played the concerned defense lawyer,   Guillermo had played in "The German" (2013)

Andrea Garrote, Nora,  was in Oscar nominated "Wild Tales" (Relatos Salvajes 2014) in same segment as Ricardo Darin, one of my favorite actors

Joaquin Furiel played Hermonogene sas a mild mannered exploited butcher.   He was the lead in most popular film blog ever "The Lighhouse of the Whales" (El Faro de las Orcas 2016).  He started acting lessons at age 12.  Received best actor awards for this one.  Check

German de Silva played a friendly butcher who gave useful advice (including how to cover up bad meat).  Appeared in won a best supporting actor ward "Wild Tales" (2014) and "The Two Popes" (2019)

Luis Ziembrowski, played the boss (deliberately not labeled employer).  It required a gruff, hard nosed and crooked acting.  In another role, "Lili's Apron" (2004) he had played a Mrs. Doubtfire sort of role.

Victoria Raposo played Clara, the wife to lawyer and key to lifting accused out of a suicidal guilt feeling swinging from an annoying wife upset at her husband' obsession.  Acting since 2010, she once was a casting director for a tv. series.

Monica Lairana, wife to butcher  Gladys--an early extra role for her was with "Evita" (1996),  Won a best supporting actress award for her role in this film.

Inspired by this film I watched on Netflix another gem from Sebastian Schindel, "Crimes that Bind" (2020) which I recommend.  

The movies that have been bolded are ones that I have watched.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Stolen Focus--you need to focus before it is too late

A concern more of us are waking up to is our lack of focus, of not being able pay attention.  It is not just for individuals, but all of society.  When we need clarity in our thinking we are distracted and confused.  The process seems to have accelerated and we may be headed to a disaster, but there are some insights that might save us.

 At first it is easy to blame social media,  Many examples are provided, but the bottom line is that social media companies are profit oriented and the way they profit is through engagement.  Every time you push a link the information is collected to compile a profile on you.  From there, algorithms are developed that steer you to either an advertisement or just as likely more posts that are designed to keep you engaged and exposed to more ads.  Another feature is the infinite scroll which encourages you to stay on board just a little bit longer. 

Another associated concern is multi tasking which social media enables.  As I write this I am also watching a movie on a streaming service.  I used to think I could pay full attention to two or more activities, but the brain was not designed that way.  Probably some of you are multi tasking as you try to figure out how much to pay attention to my words.  Some people are more adept at switching interests back and forth and retaining some value, but science has proved that the mere act of switching guarantees you lose something.  This problem is exacerbated with the multitude of electronic devices.  Distracted driving is an increasing cause of death.

But the problem goes much deeper.  

A lack of sleep slows down reactions, impairs memory and can even raise blood pressure.  Sleep is when your body cleans out toxins.  REM sleep is when your body dreams and sorts out the events of the day.  It occurs towards the end of 7 or 8 hours.  We evolved with the natural cycle of sun and dark, but now artificial light extends our day and disrupts our sleep, further diminishing our focus.  Lack of sleep has many causes:  busyness, stress, light and noise are a few factors.

What you eat and drink affects your ability to concentrate.  We have changed our eating habits very dramatically since our cave days.  In a busy world we eat prepared foods that use preservatives to make for more economical storage.  Supplements we take  are not as good as fresh nutrients. We eat a lot of sugar that causes a spike in energy, but crashes.  Caffeine amplifies the effect of sugar making our moods unsteady.  The brain needs a steady supply of fuel provided by what we eat. 

Pollution puts more unhealthy chemicals into our bodies.  What comes out of factories spreads through the air that we breathe.  Chemicals are constantly being added through pesticides, cosmetics and fire retardants and are not always tested adequately.  The level of inspections is subject to political budgets.   All this adds to the body's inability to concentrate

When people of my age were young we played out in the streets without any supervision.  In the past few decades parents have overplayed the dangers and most youngsters today are heavily involved with supervised activities and/or spend hours every week in front of screens.  It has been found that free play time actually reduces anxiety and promotes social skills.  Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist noted that increasing anxiety is partly the result of play deprivation had a profound effect on me

Johann offers some solutions, but feels an individual is limited in dealing with the problem.

There are technical aids to limiting screen time and of course taking responsibility to limit your time.  You can refrain from screen viewing before going to bed.  You can monitor your diet to avoid empty nutrition. 

Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi devoted most of his science career studying what he termed "flow."  That is activities are absorbing because they are enjoyable and meaningful.  These could be any effort, either physical or mental.  One example that has greatly diminished is reading.  Actually reading a book as opposed to reading online lends itself better to flow.  Reading fiction helps develop empathy.  The author says "..when you widen human empathy, you open the universe a little more."

But the real problem is systemic.  Stress is manufactured by our lifestyle.  It may seem hopeless, but many issues have improved after enough people became aware of ia problem and exerted pressure on governments.  Some examples are banning lead in paint and in gasoline, seatbelts and alcohol testing on drivers.  In Mexico they raised taxes on some sugary products that helped curb obesity and diabetes.

Online surveillance can be stopped completely which may necessitates new models for some social media providers such as more reliance on subscriptions.  Infinite scrolling can be modified so that a viewer has the option of whether or not to go to the next page.  In France they have stopped emailing employees in specified hours so they can relax.

Stress is unavoidable no matter what system we find ourselves in.  Our present standard  of living owes a lot to economic growth, however the author claims economic growth is a major cause of stress and unless checked will increase to the point of disaster.  Dr Jason Hickel  advocates a "steady-state economy." Instead of working to buy more goods that we don't need, time to enjoy nature, our families.  With a four day work week we ought to be able to sustain ourselves and have security.

Al Gore realized that before we could fix climate change we would have to fix democracy.  Johann is pointing out that before we can fix much of anything we need to fix this attention crisis.

W.H. Auden after looking over technologies of destruction warned, "We must love one another or die."

 I cannot pretend to have done justice to all the thinking in this book.  To do so you should read it for more depth.  You can keep up to date with changes at  From there you can get on a mailing list.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Power of Us

 In a university course we were taught that one of the triggers for prejudice was pride in our own group.  If your group is so good it must mean they are better than other groups.   In other words a bias can lead to a prejudice.  The authors contend that we get our social identity by the groups we associate ourselves with.

We are who we identify as.  We have multiple identities, but some give more conscientiousness.  We have a need to belong, but many of us want to retain some distinctiveness and others want a higher status.  Group identity can help direct us to do things co-operating.

The inter-net has enabled more people with the same interests to find each other.  Once aware connections are much easier.

You belong to a wide range of groups, some of which are taken for granted and others that you are fervently proud about.  You have a gender, a racial/ethnic background, an education, an age, etc. etc. and all of these and many more are groups you a member of.

Sports fans allied to teams feel good when their team wins.  Fans can even accept transformations if they are winning.  A good example might be Mohamad Saleh who joined the Liverpool soccer team and subsequently hate crimes were reduced in the area.  In Iraq after ISIS impacted area there had been fear between Christians and Muslims.  Adding some Muslims to Christian teams lessened tensions and again winning helps toleration.

Apple users originally felt a little rebellious and perhaps a little smug.  I became one of them by the fact that an employer used them.  I found them easier to operate than a PC.  We notice and took pride that the Apple logo is a product on display on tv. shows and movies

Some groups seem crazy and believe things that the rest of us find bonkers.  The key to facing countervailing evidence is social support.   Erich Fromm is quoted"An illusion shared by everyone becomes a reality."

Groups often have a hierarchy.  There are no leaders without followers meaning everyone has some power Pointed out by Mark Van Vugt.

Trump told his base that they were victims.  Others were to blame.  His base group consisted partly of those who felt outsiders were to blame for their diminished circumstances while others felt that others were threatening their rising standards.   Sometimes it is easier to form a group that is against something than is for something.

Sometimes it is easier to manipulate groups.  Robert Mueller uncovered that Russians did interfere in the 2016 election by using Facebook to encourage rallies for and against Trump as they wanted to inflame conflict.  To cross a divide it is better to avoid inflammatory words and allow for interaction that lessens antagonism

Groups tend to make better decisions when people can express divergent views.  If a leader encourages all views a sense of fairness will also tend to better decisions.  Opposing views are more likely to be accepted if they can be made in the long term interests of the group.  Leaders can help make everyone feel they belong and can help guide in a positive or negative direction.

Inequality is increasing.  The richest 10% control 85% of the wealth.  The pandemic not only increased inequality, but exposed the illegitimacy of it.  We need a leader like Nelson Mandela.  It has been suggested that like Republicans have linked gun rights, abortion, racism and homophobism the Democrats could unite environmentalists and human rights advocates into one group that benefits everyone.

Climate change initially encountered a lot of skepticism, but over time gained some credibility, but lately losing ground.  Conservatives do not accept that human caused climate change is real and increasing.  Vested interests are funding misinformation and are finding a receptive audience along partisan lines.   We are all earth beings, but few of us see it that way.

Astronauts for the first time in human history got a different perspective.  They got to see the earth as a whole and realized they were a part of it.  We all are.  Some problems such as pandemics and climate change are global in nature and we can deal more effectively if we all see ourselves as earth beings.  How we get more attention to solve global problems is to expand our concept of a group.

E.O. Wilson is quoted   "The real problem of humanity is the following:  "We have a paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology."

There are many dimensions to being a group member which are explored in this fascinating book.  Their last words were to point out that the future depends on what we do as group members to make a better world.

Acknowledgements can be revealing.  The two authors did not initially like each other, but  had been assigned to the same sub basement room in the University of Toronto psychology department.  Circumstances conspired to make them find their commonalities and learn to work together (as a small group).

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Wolf's Call (Le Chant du loup)

"The Wolf's Call" (2019 Le Chant du loup) follows a unique niche, submarines in combat.   Over the years I have enjoyed "Das Boot" (1981), "The Hunt for Red October" (1990), "Run Silent Run Deep" (1958).  They have the usual tension buildup, but they are isolated, under water, at the mercy of bombs or torpedoes and in cramped claustrophobic conditions.

It is listed as a sci-fi film, but is so realistic I am unable to tell what sci-fi is left after all the modern technology.

The main protagonist, Chanteraide is an AWA or acoustic warfare analyst at a relatively low rank.  His hearing is very sensitive to help identify ships and weapons of both allies and enemies.  He detects what he feels is a deception and is able to prove to superiors they were about to make a mistake.  Towards the end of the film his credibility has risen and he is involved in some critical military decisions.  One example of his sensitivity is demonstrated when his girl friend approaches him from behind and he is able to grab her hands as she tries to surprise him.

A key plot development is when an unexpected missile is sent to the free world and the protagonist is able to determine it does not contain the expected nuclear warhead.  It is concluded that the missile had been launched by a third party, most likely a terrorist group wanting to start a nuclear conflict.  Other delicate decisions have to be made under very stressful circumstances, but Chanteraide is able to overcome some difficult rigid protocols.  

The plot moves forward with lots of deception involving international forces as terrorists try to force the issue.  You watch movies like this because you like the tension and this one delivers.  The enjoyment has been engineered by a very capable crew. 

Antonin Baudry became the writer and director after an unusual path.  He graduated as an engineer for bridges.  He also earned a degree in literature that allowed him to become a cultural counsellor which he did at the French Embassy in Washington, DC and associated with their Embassy in Madrid, Spain.  Utilizing his diplomatic experience he used a pseudonym to write a graphic novel (comic).  A sequel earned a national award and he revealed his identity.  His comic was used for a film, "The French Minister" in 2015.  He had a dream to be a film maker and "Le Chant du loup" was his big chance.  He was nominated for a Cesar Award  for a first feature. 

At moments this film has upped tension found in other submarine movies.  One of the ways is the use of sound.  I watched and listened off a DVD and can only imagine the sound effects on the big screen, but the mere fact that life and death decisions were made on the basis of very subtle sounds generates a lot of anxiety.

The Cesar awards (the Oscars of France) awarded this film top prize for sound.  Not something I have appreciated in the past, but the producers assembled some of the best.  Sharing the award were sound editors Nicolas Cantin  ("The Chorus" 2004), Thomas Desjonqueres ("The Ghost Writer" 2010, "The Past" 2013), Raphael Mouterde ("Lord of the Rings" 2002 "Mood Indigo" 2013,  Clouds of Sils Maria" 2014), Olivier Goinard  ("Mustang" 2015) and Randy Thorn ("Forrest Gump" 1994,"The Revenant" 2015).

Alain Attal,  one of three producers with other productions including  "Tell No One" (2006),"The Concert" (2009), "Little White Lies" (2010) and "Polisse" (2011).

Ardavan Safaee another producer has since been executive producer for Oscar winner, "CODA" (2021) .  

Jerome Seydoux still another producer  had been involved "The Scapegoat" (2013), "Marius" (2013), "Fanny" (2013)  He was an executive producr for "Snowden" (2016) and CODA (2021)

Francois Civil carried the weight of the film as the protagonist Chanteraide.  Started as a child actor in 2005.

Omar Sy played a submarine captain.  He won a Cesar and many other awards for "The Intouchables" (2011) the richest  French film at the time.   He went on to "Mood Indigo' (2013), "Samba" (2014), "Burnt" (2015), "Jurassic World" (2015) and "Lupin" (2021).  A big international award winner who learned English watching American television.

Mathieu Kassovitz played a high level commander.  He is noted as an actor, writer, director, producer and editor.  Some of his films include "La Haine" (1995), "Amelie" (2001), "Munich" (2005) and "Rebellion" (2011).  He has won Cesar awards and at Cannes.

Reda Kateb played another commander.  He has appeared in  "A Prophet" (2009) and "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012),

Paula Beer played the hero's girlfriend.   She is German, but also fluent in French.  Her credits include "Frantz" (2016) and "Never Look Away" (2018).

A top notch submarine thriller with an excellent cast and crew. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

The No Asshole Rule

Do provocative titles make a difference?  There are no words in this book that aren't spoken by millions of people everyday.  There is much to commend it and even change your life for the better.  An average work day takes up about a third of your day; no need to let assholes spoil it.

Author Bob Sutton has the credentials.  Currently working from Stanford and having graduated from Harvard he has done lots of research into business management and has had many books published.  This particular theme started its journey as articles with the Harvard Business Review.  

A definition of "asshole" is someone who demeans another person (usually with less power).  How do they do it?  Yelling, insulting, sarcasm or even silence among other tools to put down someone.  The author contends there is at least a little bit of temporary assholeness about most of us.  That can get out of hand if we are not careful, but the real concern is what he calls certified assholes.  

Obviously such behavior is demoralizing to the victim, but the damage is more widespread than might be appreciated.  The stress given to the victim is often transferred in part to co-workers and even family.  Bystanders and even those who only have been told about it are also intimidated.  Sutton quotes studies that show that assholes can damage a company's bottom line.  Staff turnover (with attendant costs), investor uncertainty, staff morale are just a few of the drags on profit.

Often an asshole is productive and is tolerated for that reason, but the author suggests that is likely illusionary.  At the end Sutton points out it no one really wants to work with an asshole.

The book was published in 2007 at which time he identified John Bolton as an asshole.  The author felt that "certified" was likely apt.

Steve Jobs was also identified as an asshole.  A perfectionist he made a lot of details more effective.  A lot of good people, though did not want to work with him.

Bobby Knight, a very successful basketball coach, but was noted for a lot of asshole behavior the author conceded that maybe he was a bit of a strategic asshole.  Personally I was offended by one of his actions:

Many years ago in my university days, a sociology professor, Don Grady recounted an experience he had in an elevator shared with Lyndon Johnson when the president lost his temper.  A confined space made it more chilling.  LBJ projected intimidation to get things done, but he also had a more thoughtful side.  Any man that could work with Martin Luther King Jr. can't be all bad.

Maybe I am in a temporary state, but I can't help identifying Donald Trump as a certified asshole.  My claim is based solely on public information gleaned from the media, but he seems proud of it.  Insulting and wild gesturing to demean individuals and groups has been too common.  Many are entertained by it partly because they find politics boring and others partly because they like demeaning many they do not know.  Not a good way to deal with serious problems like climate change, pandemics, international provocations, crime, inequality, etc. etc.

It used to be said that the customer is always right, but employees know that is not always true.  Sutton applies the  rule to customers.  Companies don't need disruptive customers.  Southwest Airlines supports its employees against abusive customers that make everyone uncomfortable.

Don't be an asshole.  The condition can multiply.  The first step is to admit that you are.  Sutton acknowledges that being a temporary asshole is normal and even that some successful people have been strategic assholes.  

To minimize the problem start at the hiring process.  One approach is to hire as interns to better assess for assholes.  Multiple interviews involving co-workers and subordinates.  Often an employer has to decide if a top producer is worth the aggravation caused.  The author compares this dilemma to decisions that sometimes are tipped by sunk costs--a mistake. 

Don't replace assholes with wimps.  You need constructive challenges from staff, but that can be done by setting a new atmosphere where no one is afraid to express themselves.  Karl Wieck suggests "Fight like you are right; listen as if you are wrong."  Definitely check references as they often give clues to real history.   Important to emphasize to all applicants that your company emphasizes team work.

Leveling pay inequality boosts team work and is good for profit.  An example of this is COSTCO.  Don't treat employees as arch rivals.  Two experiences illustrate this for me.  In the worst we had a contest that allowed each territory manager to sell and recruit workers in other territories.  This encourages resentment.  By contrast two teams were also encouraged to go into other territories, but the incentives were set up so that a team could win a small reward for achieving a quota, but get a much bigger reward if  both teams reached the group goal.  By the way, I won both ways, but teamwork was much better for the company and also for each participant. 

What can an individual do if they have deal with an asshole?  It is not easy, but start with low expectations and be emotionally detached.  Stay calm in the face of belligerence.  When opportune gently correct misinformation.

This is only a crude outline of advice to be gained reading the book.   

In my opinion Jessica Lerner  has made at least two wise choices.  One was marrying Daniel Pink and other was recommending this book which got my attention on one of her husband's facebook postings.  Thank you.  There are likely more wise decisions.

Daniel Pink is a long time favorite thinker you can check at:  blog

Check out another provocative title with good advice:

Robert "Bob" I. Sutton  has done a lot since this book and you can check his current thoughts at: