Monday, January 31, 2022

The Sum of Us

The title "The Sum of Us" is in contrast to a common underlying feeling many racists have of a Zero Sum relation by which they mean any advantage given to other races is at their expense.  Heather McGhee feels that racial harmony is beneficial to all races.  In fact the book outlines many instances where whites have hurt themselves with their hatred and indifference of blacks.

This book aligns with my belief that racism will not end until we all understand that it hurts EVERYBODY.  Most of us privileged ones are unaware of the costs of racism.

 One early example was an identified racist who studied librairies in different states before the American Civil War.  He discovered that in slave states there were significantly fewer librairies than were in non slave states.  He reasoned that wealth was concentrated among slave owners who were able to restrict funds spent on the poorer white citizens.  This pattern has continued into modern times with less public expenditures in the former slave states.

The Republicans and their 1% supporters have an economic plan that involves paying less taxes and having less regulations.  This will allow them to exploit the less fortunate.  Stated bluntly, most voters would not accept this, so another strategy has emerged.  Stir up natural prejudices and cast blame elsewhere.  Racism and homophobia are effective tools. 

We are somewhat aware of many methods of suppressing black votes, but the voting process was set by the Constitution that was decided by wealthy white men.  They allowed only propertied men to vote.  Various political and economic factors forced an expansion to include all white men, black men, women and even lowered the voting age.  The wealthy white men are still trying to control who votes which hurts other whites.

In the 20th century many American cities built public swimming pools, but many whites objected against blacks being so close.  They tried various maneuvers to oust the unwanted blacks, but in many cases the swimming pools ended up being closed and filled in with dirt.  

Americans have had a few attempts to offer a public health program to provide health security for all its citizens, but early attempts were thwarted primarily by vested interests with racist strategies playing a role.  When finally Barrack Obama was able to implement such a plan, often referred to as Obamacare it was met with fierce opposition and it became evident that a racist strategy was a key.  The Democrats were forced to use a state by state implementation with southern States resisting, even refusing to accept federal money.  The tragic reality for the voters in these states was it would have benefited more whites than blacks, but of course everyone lost out.   Check:

Unions have been a force for improving working conditions, but many kept blacks out, with the blessing of the white owners.  But when unions are unified they have more power.  

Climate Change is getting more attention, but again many whites were against efforts to deal with it, partly because wealthy whites had vested interests, but also because Obama crusaded for it.  When Trump got power he automatically tried to undo Obama's legacy.

Housing has historically been how most people develop wealth.   After many years of building equity in a house, the next generation starts off with an advantage.  Blacks were deliberately restricted in obtaining affordable housing.  They ended up living in the poorer parts of town which further limited educational opportunities.   

What can be done?  There are many informal efforts and some progress from natural relations, but there is need for faster actions. that only Government can provide. 

Reparations is a very touchy subject, but the author suggests one tool might be to allow blacks (who can be traced to enslaved ancestors) be given grants to help with down payments.  The mortgage interest deduction gives an advantage to those who have qualified for a mortgage, but it means everyone else is subsidizing it.   It will take at least a generation to give blacks a chance to accumulate wealth the way many whites have had for over a century.

 Misinformation abounds as does fear.  CRT (Critical Race Theory) is actually greatly needed, as much for ignorant whites as for anyone and should be protected as free speech.  There has been a white view taught in American history.  One study showed that only 8% of high school students knew that slavery was a primary cause of the American Civil War.  Social media as been an effective platform for racists beliefs with one example being in June 2020 seven out of ten Facebook shared posts were anti Black Lives Matter.   One retort to Black Lives Matter was that "All Lives Matter" ignoring that in fact black lives had not really been acknowledged.

Education is mainly a state responsibility and in Canada it is controlled by the provinces.  The federal government can offer incentives and guidelines which although likely to be resisted need to be made as enticing as practical.  Eventually students will learn, but it will take at least a generation to be sufficient. 

Social media is a key element and there are concerns of censorship.  Hateful ignorant communication needs to be monitored and contested.  Legally there are limitations, but the government has a responsibility to promote truth.  

The Supreme Court nomination is happening and we have been promised a black woman, who will also have to be excellent.  Already critics are claiming the decision should not be based on demographics.  They over look that over 120 Supreme Court justices  have been, with the vast majority white men and no black women.  Of course demographics matter as everyone has a different perspective. 

The establishment always has the advantage over minorities, but as the minorities are gradually increasing in numbers their leverage will increase.

As a Canadian I have been smug looking at all the racial turmoil in the United States, however looking deeper we are not so different.  In fact it is human nature to emphasize the differences, but we do better when we focus on the similarities.

Friday, January 28, 2022

The Journalist

 Corruption is everywhere.  To be honest it is a regular theme of films and in some cases seems greatly exaggerated.  But is it?  If we are not vigilant it is easy to imagine it will take over our lives.  Fortunately there are still people dedicated to fighting it.  "The Journalist" (2022) got my attention by how much effort and time is required to fight it and how realistic it seemed.  Available on Netflix with a dubbed version.

 We often wonder how did someone get to be the "boss"?   Was it hard work and talent?  For many it is.  Most of realize that it is in our best interest to reward hard work and talent.  But others, especially short term thinkers want to do whatever it takes to get what they want as soon as practical.  What they want usually is related to money or power.

The lead reporter Matsuda recognizes a government deal is not right and wants to expose it. A scandal that we realize from the start has its origins at the top.  Being at the top means having power.  Society depends on the rational use of power, but we all know there is much abuse.

Journalists get a bad rap, seemingly more interested in a scoop than facts.  In all cases they have to be responsive to what their bosses want and in turn we realize their bosses are under pressure.  On the other hand we as consumers (including for entertainment), many of us love it when the big guy is exposed.  If too close to our vested interests we might be part of the problem.

There are the crooked insiders, the coerced insiders, the hurt family, the crusading reporter and in this version an impressionable youth.

The bad guys look with their dirty tricks and intimidation like they are going to get away with it.  Japan has a reputation to us outsiders as place where a suicide is more common.  In this case an honest bureaucrat is forced to alter some details to protect his boss(es).  He realizes a lot of harm to others will be done and despite his efforts to reverse.  He cannot live with the guilt and commits suicide which I would classify as altruistic)  He left a suicide note for his wife with one page expressing his sorrow at letting her down  and the second page with details of what he had been forced to do.  She decides to keep it to herself and is resentful of people (especially reporters) at intruding into her life.  

We meet a young boy (late teens) who delivers newspapers, but declares he is not interested in the news.  A girl the same age mocks him, but also encourages him to take an interest.   It is his uncle that he admires who is the one who commits suicide

An interesting technique is to parallel reporter questions on two separate issues  In one instance the reporter is asking tough questions about the scandal.  In another the young trainee reporter is asking the original girl about her prospects.  Coronovirus intrudes as it affects the girl's job offer.

The ending is unresolved.  We know that a journalist has forced the issue to court and that is the point.  A young man is inspired and that is another point.  

I was impressed with the message and the presentation.  The cast and crew that made it possible are only partly recognized.  Here are a few notes:

Michihito Fuji directed and was one of the main writers.  She also directed and wrote another film "The Journalist" (2019) that had been based on the same author.

Isoko Mochizuki wrote the book based on her own personal experiences as a journalist.   She has been involved with the two films plus a documentary on the filming.

Ryoko Yonekura played the lead character as an aggressive journalist who was also empathetic.   She has been acting in films since 2000.

Ryusei Yokohoma played the naive young man who ended up training to be a journalist.  He is very likable.  Despite his apparent youth he has over 40 screen credits including many series.

Another recent excellent Japanese series on Netflix:

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Pushpa: The Rise Part I

" Pushpa:  The Rise Part 1" (2021) may not be your cup of tea.  Violence, action- gore-lots of southern Indian music/dance (very aggressive).  It has an interesting story and characters and well presented..

This multi lingual blockbuster film is originally in Telegu but has been dubbed in four other languages (Tamil, Hindi, Kannada and Malayalam) with English subtitles.  Special item numbers in each of the languages.   This is a very action oriented film with a fair amount of gore--guns play a role, but unreal physical fighting is more common and is spectacular.  Follows the basic format of many gangster movies where a disadvantaged person fights against tremendous odds and achieves respect and power.  The cinematography is spectacular.

Part of the tension is provided by smuggling high value sandalwood logs which involves misleading authorities or bribery.  I googled Red sandalwood and learned that is very rare and thus protected.  It is prized for its beauty and in Japan they have discovered using it for musical instruments it has a pleasant acoustical effect.  It is also used in dyes. 

The family and gang dynamics provide more tension.  Pushpa is an illegitimate son while two legitimate sons are wealthy and powerful in the smuggling business and don't want to include him. The brothers admit to knowing their father visited his mother, but claim their father might not have been the only visitor.  A photo in a locket with father and son has been taken away.  He is very supportive of his mother.  After proving himself clever and ruthless, Pushpa takes a fancy to a woman while a friend pays her to smile at him.  He is shy, but you know she will provide the romance. 

This blockbuster was very well done and I look forward to the sequel.  Here are a few of the contributors.

Sukuma is the director and writer.  He wrote" Rangasthalam 1985" (2018).

Music by Devi Sri Prasad who has also been a playback singer.    He has worked with Tamil and Telegu films and had his music used in different languages.  An award winner.

Miroslaw Brozek was the cinematographer got his start in Poland with other action films.  He did a Telegu movie, "Gang Leader" (2019).   It is easy to tell that the picture would look even more amazing on a large screen.

Allu Arjun played the casual and arrogant (but also shy) hero Pushpa.  He has been noted for his unique dance.  He started in the Telegu film trade and has built up a very strong following all over India.

Fahadh Faasil has a relatively small role, but a different look from his many other films.  He ison the other side of the law, but really a ruthless corrupt cop.  We first see him dealing with canabis smuggling, but in fact takes a huge bribe.  He is listed to have bigger role in part 2.  He got his first break because his father big in the Malayalam film trade got him into starring roles at a young age, but when he flopped he ketp away for films for nine years.   Then he began a career as a popular respected actor with such Maylayalam films as "Bangalore Days" (2014),  "Take Off" (2017),  "Thondi Muthalum Driksakshiyum" (2017)and "Nijan Prakashan" (2018).  Check

Rashmika Mandanna plays the leading lady.  She started with a Kannada film and has also done Telegu.  

Part 2 to be released in India just before Christmas 2022 and likely accessible in U.S./Canada January 2023

While gathering material  for "Pushpa" I decided to start watching "Shyam Singha Roy" (2021) but felt compelled to watch the whole film straightaway.  It deserves a separate blog, but because I have already met my quota for the month and it is also a Telegu movie I am just adding a bit here.  It is different and very highly recommended by me.  You do have to accept the concept of reincarnation, but it is very poetically done.   I included a dance sequence that I found really good in a Facebook post just before finishing this post.  The story is very interesting starting with a young rising film director being charged with plagiarism.  The story then diverts to events a few decades before.  

 Produced by Venkat Boyanapalli. Directed by Rahul Sankrityan.  Written by Salyadev Janga.  Music provided by Mickey J. Meyer.  Cinematography by Sanu John Varughese.  Editing by Sanu John Varughese.  The principle actors were:  Nani, Sai Pallavi, Krithi Shetty, Madonna Sebastian, Murali Sharma, Jishu Sengupta, Rahul Ravindran and Leela Samson.

Both films reflect good films come in the Telegu language.

As usual I have bolded films I have seen.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Upright Thinkers

A personal quest is to better understand how we reached our present level of civilization and our unique role in the world.  Leonard Mlodinow has tackled this in an illuminating and humorous manner.  The main theme is that it took a long time, so long we cannot really comprehend it.  In reality it took many small steps to reach our state of being with each step breaking down into smaller steps.  Sir Isaac Newton has been quoted "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

A bit about the author, Leonard Mlodinow.  His father had been imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland and as a non scientist is used as a reference point a couple of times.  Leonard himself is a physicist, but has also been on the writing team for "Star Trek; the Next Generation" and "MacGyver."

 The title reflects the monumental change when our ancestors operated on four legs to taking a two legged approach to life.  The disadvantage was that we were not able to move as fast as our predators or our prey.  On the other hand, we had the use of hands and we were able to see further.  From there we evolved further.

We fancy ourselves as modern thinkers, but take for granted the countless efforts (often opposed by the majority) to develop our understanding of the world.  The author thinks the first step was turning stones into cutting tools. 

At early stages humans were generalists meaning each person did everything.  Advancement came with specialization.  Agriculture and domestication of animals developed.  In turn this inspired humans to better understand nature. Another innovation was developing irrigation which the author considers a true wonder requiring much labor using crude tools.  All this led to a surplus of food.  Another step would be to develop a bureaucracy to keep track and a militia to protect resources and then to a priest-king.  There was no separation of church and state.  

Rulers needed information.  Languages developed and writing provided another breakthrough allowing information to spread over distance and time.  Arithmetic needed to keep track of supplies and to measure a wide range of things.  The concept of laws developed.  I would say this signaled the recognition of collective rights.

The author draws our attention to the city of Miletus in today's Turkey.  About 600 B.C. they had a population of 100,000 with an agricultural base and a trading network.  They had colonized as far as Egypt where knowledge of geometry was learned.  Nature was being understood better with one example being eclipses were not the result of Gods.  Questions are being asked.

Aristotle had been a student of Plato and went on to become a tutor to Alexander (the Great).  He returned to Athens and wrote his famous works.   Greek science was advancing, but when Romans took over science declined while engineering advanced.  I had read that the Etruscans are the ones that  gave the Romans a head start with engineering projects, but thinking themselves more practical had less interest in science.

After the Roman Empire fell, the Arabs were fascinated with Greek science and even made their own contributions.  Eventually Europeans re translated many Greek texts to Latin.  Muslim fundamentalists gained control of education and the Arab contributions to science declined.  The printing press opened up communication for all sorts of ideas. which led to paper being more available. 

Galilei Galileo was the next scientific breakthrough noted by Leonard.  Scientific method requires a questioning mind.  He developed a telescope and was able to see craters on the moon and moons around Jupiter.  Perhaps more importantly he developed theories about motion that helped Isaac Newton develop more accurate theories.

Isaac Newton takes Galileo's work to another level with his three laws.  He also invented calculus.  Driven by curiosity and attention to detail.  Although not traveled very much he did correspond extensively.  

The physicist author switches attention to chemistry which focuses on matter.  At one time philosophers thought everything was made up from only four elements--earth, air, fire and water,  not realizing that each of these elements are composed of more basic elements.  Dmitri Mendeleev broke down elements with known facts and recognizing that there were many unknown facts.  With persistence spread over many years  this Russian developed the periodic table.  He knew there were gaps in the table, but was able to predict the characteristics of elements and even weights not yet discovered.  The periodic table was first published in 1869.

Biology was another major science field.  Back in 1664 Robert Hooke had been able to identify small components for all living creatures and plants that he called "cells" as they reminded him of monastic cells.  Cells had the ability to copy themselves.  This led to conflicts with established religion.

It took a deeply religious man, Charles Darwin to advance our understanding.  It a series of fortuitous flukes he went on the famous Beagle voyage and gathered much material which he shared with naturalists who gave him feedback.  It was years in developed his theory of natural selection that led us to more modern concepts of evolution.  It was more years before he felt comfortable to release his work and ever since there has been opposition.

Knowledge has advanced through the efforts of thousands of curious people gradually given more resources and the information from predecessors.  Newton and Darwin were not aware of atom structures, but along with many others prepared that path for people like Albert Eistein and Max Planck.  Read more on Einstein:

The author notes that even scientists can get too comfortable with what they know and resist accepting new ideas  Fortunately there seems to be a good supply of curious people willing to ask further questions.  

I found that book difficult to read at times, but also compelling.  I have skimmed over much information, but assure you there is much meat to be discovered.  Non scientists take a lot for granted, but all of us would benefit from a better understanding of what makes up the universe and how knowledge has been accumulated.  Leonard Mlodinow is a gifted writer who makes it all seem to make sense.  The future is unknown, but there is much information to uncover.  Personally I have a greater understanding of what happened before me. 

How are we advancing today?  Teachers are essential;

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Cemara's Family

In many ways "Cemara's Family" (2018) is not a whole lot different than typical family dramas found in the English speaking world, but it offers a little different perspective.  Netflix had seen it worth their while to seek out foreign films and they are now offering movies from Indonesia.  This is the third one this year for me with the first two included a religious theme, but this one is much more secular.  It follows a very popular tv series of the same name.

It has a familiar formula.  A family encounters a major problem, in this case an unfair bankruptcy and have to adjust.  They end up moving from a big city to a rural area and for awhile there is an uncomfortable feeling especially with the 13 year old daughter.

You know somehow they will get to appreciate the joys of country living, but there are a few obstacles.  The one with the biggest problem is the eldest daughter, Euis who is made fun of.  She already has more education than her classmates who seem to hold that against her.  In one memorable scene she is exposed having her first period which draws further derision.  My thoughts on the rural/urban divide:

A turning point for Euis is when she decided to defy her father and visit friends who have come to a nearby town for a dance competition.  Euis had belonged to what might be called a girl band dance group and really enjoyed it.  However. her friends with her replacement seemed too artificial to her and she went back home and apologized to her father.

The father finally gives in to what he felt his daughters wanted, but was surprised to learn they had changed their minds and didn't want to move.  He is mostly calm and reasonable, but pushes ahead despite crying and protests from the three women in his family.  You can easily imagine that there will be a happy ending, but there are a few twists and turns.  I am looking forward to the sequel which should be available this year.

Ginatri S. Noer is the a co-writer and producer.  She had written for "Habbie and Ainum" (2012).  Born in Madagascar.

Yandy Laurens directed and co-wrote the script.

Music was handled by Ifa Fachir which included two new songs by a new favorite singer Bunga Cintra Lestari who starred in and sang a memorable song with  "Habibie and Ainum".  Fachir also wrote the music for the sequel,  "Keluarga Cemara 2." (2022)

Robie Taswin did the cinematography and Hendra Adhi Susanri was the editor.

Ringgo Agus Rahman plays the mostly calm father who occasionally vents his frustration.

Nirina Zubir played the mother who gives birth to a third child.

Adhisty Zara played Euis, the elder daughter while Widuri Sasono played the younger daughter.  The title "Cemara's family" implies that the youngest daughter is the focal point as Cemera is the long form of the youngest daughter who everyone calls Ara.  I would argue her older sister has more dramatic range, but perhaps that is a clue that from the tv series that the sequel will shift its focus.  All four family roles are repeated with the same actors for the sequel that should be accessible soon.

Indonesia is a large country with a population over 270 million, so it should not be surprising that they have developed a noteworthy cinema.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Anxious People: The Series

 Last year the book was one of my favorites.   It was confusing at the beginning and even seemed trite, but beautifully tied together before the end.  The tv series "Anxious People" (2021)which I understand was at least partially written by the same author takes a similar tack with the advantage of using flashbacks.

The basic story follows a botched bank robbery attempt (the modern bank actually had no cash on hand).  We flip over to an apartment viewing where the bank robber points a gun at assembled  people.  Gradually we learn what a diverse group who all seem to have differing motives for appearing.  An unusual father and son team of police officers investigates after a contingent from Stockholm pulls out.

We learn the police officers have a drug addicted daughter/sister who suffered many relapses.  The father is more compassionate.  The son at age 13 had witnessed a suicide that also affected one of the other characters.  We learn that one of the characters has been kicked out of her house and threatened with losing custody of two children.  An underlying theme is that life can be pretty harsh and sometimes people can be nice. 

Let's look at some of the people who put it together.

Fredric Backman wrote the original novel and is credited with the script.  He and his wife Neda were executive producers.  I first learned of Fredric Backman when a local librarian, Chris recommended the book "Beartown," my favorite read for 2020 which I understand had also been a tv. series written and produced with Backman.  A few years before that I had seen "A Man Called Ove" (2017), also written and produced with Backman.

Felix Herngren directed.  He has been actor from 1990 until 2022.  He also has been a prolific writer and director.  In 2013 he wrote a directed the Oscar nominated "The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared."  He also wrote and directed a sequel in 2013.

Some of the actors:

 Marika Lagercrantz has appeared in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" ) 2009)

 Anna Granath has appeared in "A Man Called Ove" (2015).

Alfred Swensson has appeared in "The 100 Year-old Man Who Climbed Out the  Window and Disappeared (2013).  He also directed, wrote the script and starred in popular series, "Leif and Billy"  (2017-2021)

 The plot is well laid out as we gradually learn about the characters and their often unknown connections.  It may seem trivial at the start, but it makes a point.  We are all connected.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui--another social breakthrough for Ayushmann

 If you are not familiar with Ayushmann Khurrana, he is unique for Bollywood.  He finds himself in a variety of socially challenging roles. See below for more on his history.  "Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui"(2020) is like a lot of romance comedies, except the focus is a transgender partner.

 Film was in theatres not only in India, but also in Ontario this past December.  Netflix picked it up very recently as there does seem to be streaming competition for Khurrana's films.

Manu's workout business is declining.  His two partners think they should rent out space to a Zumba instructor which not only would attract women fitness seekers, but also get more men who could ogle the women, especially the instructor.  Maanvi is certainly attractive, well spoken and feminine.  

 The reveal comes early, but after a sexual relationship has been established.  Shock and feelings of betrayal.  He didn't know what a trans girl was and went into a fit.  He wanted her to leave the city as well as the business.  His partners pointed out that they were now making money and everyone was happy, including his two sisters who were constantly trying to get him married off.  Word spread quickly and hit a peak when his sisters created a big fuss at a Zumba class that went viral, feeling their brother had been duped, but later blaming him thinking he knew all along.  The healing process takes time and random events before a happy ending.

His two sisters were the first to know and of course told the rest of the family.  Manu's father had been widowed for over a decade and had told his son to marry Maanvi so he, the father, could marry his secret love.  But now he felt downcast and very upset along with his two daughters.  A live in grandfather was kept uninformed, and of course he learned, but wasn't as upset as the others. 

We met her father early in the movie and he seems a doting dad.  Later he tells her he thinks of her as both son and daughter, but we also learn he visits her behind his wife's back.  His wife and a few other relatives already know about the transgender operation and want to avoid her.

We watch Manu view transgender videos and listen to a psychologist help to gradually make him accept the situation.  As often in such films it takes a family crisis and Maanvi's father has a heart attack which his wife attributes to worrying about their son/daughter.  But in truth Maanviis the one he requests to visit.  Manu shows up and realizes that he had been happy with Maanvi and wanted to make up with her.  Of course it is not quite that easy, but the climax is similar to what you might expect, perhaps allowing for a lingering homophobic culture, but if you like rom-coms you will be satisfied.

If you are not a Bollywood fan you might be annoyed by the Punjabi dancing, but it is not too intrusive and reflects joy at different times in the story.  There is humor as you might imagine, but it is not at the so much at the expense of transgenders.

Transgender issues are starting to get noticed, but it is still something that makes many feel queasy.  As Maanvi says she was always a woman inside and decided to be a woman on the outside.  She declared to her mother who was most upset, that she had been the model for what Maanvi wanted to be. The videos that Manu watches are not just for him, but for the audience to understand a little better.

Abhishek Kapoor was director and helped write the script.  He has a unusual history as an actor.  He starred in several films that were shelved.  He has directed some good films:  "Rock on" (2008) and "Kai Po Che" (2013) which he also adapted the script--check   

Supratik Sen wrote much of the dialogue and script and provided the story.  Earlier films involved with included "Kaminey" (2009), "Kai Po Che" (2013), "Parched" (2015) and "Fitoor" (2016).

Music provided by team of Sachin Sanghvi and Jigar Saraiya.  

Ayushmann Khurrana played Manu and was muscled up and portrayed a bit of machoism.  He has developed a reputation for choosing roles with a social element to them.  For example his first feature he was a sperm donor with "Vicky Donor" (2012).   In "Dum Laga Ke Haisha" (2015) he tries to get out of an arranged marriage with an overweight girl better educated than him.  In "Shrubh Mangal Savdhan: (2017) he had erectile disfunction.  In "Article 15" (2015) he played a military officer fighting caste discrimination.  Check:

 Vaani Kapoor played Maanvi at first as a bubbly Zumba instructor, then a rejected lover.  Her films include "Shuddh Desi Romance" (2013) for which she won several debutante awards and "Befikre" (2016).

Anjan Srivastav played Maanvi's understanding father.  He started with films in 1976 including "Chak De! India" (2007) and "Sanju" (2018)

Social concerns can be approached with seriousness, but also with humor.  You can look at unfamiliar situations and become aware of injustices, but sometimes it is effective to laugh.  This movie demonstrates a little of both.  An earlier movie that opened my understanding a little was "Peranbu" (2019), my top movie of 2020.  Not wishing to spoil an excellent movie I would just like to point out that a transgender is part of the solution to an awkward situation.  Check it out as it is an excellent movie:

Except for the transgender angle I would describe this movie as a typical rom-com.  But that is a strength to help us to adjust to a new reality (for many of us).  Watching others overcome social hangups can be therapeutic.

I have bolded the first listing of movies I have seen, admittedly partly due to vanity, but also to establish familiarity with the film.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

First Friends

The most powerful person in the world, the one who makes the most decisions that affect the most people can be lonely.  They need someone to trust who can help them unwind and be sounding boards.  They all have many political and government advisors, but really to share intimate thoughts it takes a special relationship.  We are all affected by these relationships that involve an unelected person.

 Thomas Jefferson is famed for the Declaration of Independence and the third President.  He is also now acknowledged to have fathered children with his mulatto servant, Sally Hemings.  His closest friend was James Madison, the two were Virginia slave owners who didn't agree very much at first.  Madison helped Jefferson through some difficulties and with his wife actually lived with Jefferson in the White House.  One of Sally Hemings' sons was named James Madison Hemmings while a son of Jefferson's legal daughter was named James Madison Randolph.  One of the pivotal events was the Louisiana Purchase which both had initially been against and would not have happened except for misfortune of Napoleon who had lost to a slave rebellion in Haiti.  Both men saw this might allow for more slave states.  These two were the only first friends to both be presidents.  Jefferson had been anti British (he had a French bias) and Madison carried some of that sentiment which was a factor causing the War of 1812. Check

Franklin Pierce was one of the least known Presidents, but his most trusted friend was the most famous, the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne.   Pierce was a poor student, but was smart enough to seek smarter friends such as Hawthorne when they attended the same school in New Hampshire.  Pierce became president, but really had no accomplishments as he preferred to defer to others.  Although a northerner he favored slavery as a way to keep the nation together.  One of his friends was Jefferson Davis who was the Secretary of War.  Pierce increased the tension between abolitionists and slave states leading to the Civil War.  Surprisingly Hawthorne, although more liberal, supported Pierce even writing an official campaign biography.

Abraham Lincoln once made a proposal to a store owner where he admitted that he might not be able to pay him back.  The counter proposal from Joshua Speed offered his bed to share which ended up lasting four years.  They went their separate ways, but kept contact.  Many years later Joshua was critical to keeping the slave state, Kansas with the Union.  Check 

Franklin Roosevelt liked to surround himself with powerful women.  He had had at least one affair and some have imputed that Daisy Suckley was one of his lovers.  However that seems unlikely.  They had known each other from youth and she turned out to be a great listener.  They didn't talk about politics very much although she knew military secrets and had met with national leaders like Winston Churchill.   She also befriended Lucy Mercer, and helped arrange liasons with Roosevelt.  Roosevelt and Suckey had literally written thousands of letters to each other.  She helped set up the first president library where their mutual correspondence was preserved.  The library reflected an interest Roosevelt had in the Oak Island treasure and was a useful research tool for other hunters.

Harry Truman became president when Roosevelt died.  An honest man, best remembered for  "The Buck stops here."  He is also the man who ok'd the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Another of his momentous decisions was to support the establishment of Israel. One notable dissenter was General George Marshall who felt it would jeopardize American oil supply and push the Arabs closer to the Russians.  Eddie Jacobsen had been a friend through a business partnership, time in army and and a long running poker group.  Truman had become upset with Zionist spokespeople and refused to talk to Chaim Weizman and it was decided that Jacobsen should intercede, but Truman resisted this until, Jacobsen at his own expense traveled to the White House.  Eventually he succeeded and the United States was the critical supporter of Israel.  Harry Truman was more appreciated after he left office;

John Kennedy and David Ormsby-Gore were an unlikely pair.  Ormsby-Gore was from English aristocracy and met Kennedy through his sister.  Kennedy spent time in England before the WWII.  Ormsby-Gore became intimate friend of Kennedy family including Jackie.  Kennedy relied on his friend n a number of issues.  Ormsby-Gore gave advice that was accepted to handle the Cuban missile crisis.

Bill Clinton and Vernon Jordan  saw each other as equals.  Jordan saw Bill Clinton as a force for the future and when Clinton was discouraged after a Arkansas defeat helped to keep in politics.   In more fortunate times which he helped bring about he guided both Clintons to adjust to Washington.  Got involved with Monica Lewinsky, getting her a job and helped keep the Clinton marriage alive.  When Hilary decided to run for president he supported her, but when Barrack Obama won he supported his fellow black man with advice

Friendship is vital to all humans.  Often there is not enough friendship in the world.  Leaders are sometimes pictured as above the masses, but in truth they need true friends as much as any and we as citizens benefit when their friendships are constructive, but not when their friendships are destructive it can be disastrous.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Better pay attention to China's role in the world

 While today's headlines revolve around the pandemic, other forces are gathering strength to affect our future.  China is not biding its time, but plotting to become the dominant nation on earth. This rant is inspired by Fareed Zakaria, but the ideas are being covered by many sources.  Experts included Evan Osmos and Ian Bremmer add their thoughts to make the point.

At one time the Chinese were self aware of their greatness.  They were the ones who innovated, they were the ones with the well developed scholarship perhaps even complacent about their role in the world.  However about the 16th century the West grew and exploited the Chinese.

Xi Jinping is the current ruler of China and has a firm grip.  What he wants is key.   Xi started his power as charming and interested in America.  He briefly studied farming at Muscatine, Iowa and took a tour of the U.S. including a Los Lakers basketball game with meeting Magic Johnson.  His only daughter studied English and psychology at Harvard under an alias.   

Xi had a tortuous history to achieve his current status.  His father was a key revolutionary, who when Mao Zedung felt he needed to revamp the Communist party, had Xi's father and many others arrested, forced Xi's mother to denounce her husband.  It has been rumored that a sister was hounded to suicide.  The young Xi was sent to manual labor and was rejected several times before allowed to join Communist party.  He worked his way through the ranks and along the way married a prominent singer.

Mao's successor Deng Xiaping took a different approach.  His underlying philosophy was to "Hide your strength... bide your time."  His goal was for China to get rich and powerful, without disturbing the then current global powers.  Each year China gained industrial power and we in the West got used to cheap goods.  Technology was literally stolen (on a personal level this affected me).  While our governments giving into voter demands found the Chinese willing to loan money at low interest rates.  Three of my pet retailer accounts were impacted by China: 

Successful (capitalist) entrepreneurs were encouraged.   The top example was Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba in 1999  He reached global celebrity and was a flamboyant entertainer.   He was the most admired Chinese citizen.  He developed a new payment system and became mammoth online retailer.  In 2014 he offered the  largest IPO at New York stock exchange.

When Xi took power in 2012 he recognized he would need Jack Ma to launch his ambitious program to further boost Chinese power.  The Chinese by this time were innovators at Western levels.  Jack Ma had more celebrity status than Xi and Xi felt uncontrolled capitalism could lead to a collapse of China.  Ma had criticized restrictions publicly.  An IPO intended for the Shanghai stock exchange had been squashed.  Ma disappeared for several months and when made his appearance had become very subdued.

Xi's long range goal appears to be to toughen up the country and claim the dominant global position that China once held.  Censorship is one of his tools and he has determined to get rid of movies that accept same sex relationships and effeminate men.  He has censored video games, social media and has even forbidden anti government karoke music.  A very popular movie has been the "Rambo" like, action movies, "Wolf Warriors" that praise strong fighting heroes.   

An aging population has been identified as a key factor against future growth. In addition to worsening the pension system there were other problems with the one child policy which has been discarded.  Check: 

He lost respect for America, especially due to their riots high lighted by the January 6th insurrection.   For public consumption Trump  has directed a lot of insults (including racial) and threats against the Chinese.  Trump's poorly thought out rants will only stiffen the resolve of the Chinese people.  They have withstood massive bombing from the Japanese and others.  When criticized for their policies Chinese politicians like to point to the racial history of the United States.

At the same time the Soviet Union collapse is frightening for XI . He attributes it to at least two factors.  One is the opening up to the West.  Another is the development of nationalist sentiments of many of the ethnic groups such as Lithuanians, Estonians and I would add Chechen.  

China itself suffered terrorist attack including ruthless car killings that by 2014 reached Tianamen Square.  The perpetrators were identified as Uigher.     The response was with massive surveillance including facial recognition equipment. Internment camps were set up with torture, abortions, sterilizations.  The Muslim religion and unique language were considered threats.  The Uighers were forced to speak Mandarin.  Xi felt diversity was a threat to the Chinese identity.

In the meantime there was a military buildup.  Still behind the Americans, but closing the gap.  

The Chinese have taken over Tibet and have threatened Westerners who harbor the Dalai Lama who is mostly revered.  In 1999 Britain handed Hong Kong to the Chinese government with the understanding Hong Kong would maintain some independence for decades, but the Xi administration has violated that with violent crackdowns on dissenters, independent politicians and journalists. 

 China grabbed a relatively small piece land from India after fighting.  It has symbolic value against those of us who would to see India as a counterpoint to China.   The border land has been seen to have military implications for both nations.  

To press claims in the oil rich South Seas China has created artificial islands.  This has led to more vigorous claims to their rights.  This has impinged upon Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.  This is both economic and military. 

 The biggest concern is threatening Taiwan.  Taiwan used to be part of China and the Xi Jinping government is demanding the return.  The Taiwanese government represents the remnant of Chiang Kai Chek's resistance to the Communist takeover.   It was authoritarian, but has since become a democratic nation.  Chinese battleships and jets are in Taiwan's area.  The Pentagon believes that China would win what may the inevitable battle.  This would force a lot of decisions around the globe and time is running out.

Diplomacy, has also been identified as a tool for Chinese domination.  They have long been accused of ignoring human rights issues with their national partners which by itself wins them influence.  In Asia they have been developing what they call a Silk Road connecting their neighbors with economic benefits for all parties.  They have support programs in Africa and South America.  Recently the Chinese have been noted for buying Iranian oil which has been forbidden by American sanctions.  Obviously the Iranians who have been spurned see it differently  A few years back Canada felt victimized when the Chinese demanded no extradition for a Chinese business woman when Americans wanted her for offenses against their sanctions.  The Chinese responded by locking up two Canadian business men for two years on phony charges.

What To Do?

It is argued the "free" world has been sleeping while China has been planning to dominate us for many decades.  In the meantime we all need to co-operate as we need everyone to fight against the pandemic and climate change.  Perhaps this effort which is also in China's interest could be a mitigating factor .  To be successful, transparency is essential for all of us to survive.  If China recognizes that they need to share information it could be a breakthrough.  However they might take a different view, not trusting us.

It is essential that America and its allies strengthen their democracy, pay attention to real problems like pandemics and climate change and inequality   I don't see it  --who has the willpower?  I do see ramping up military capabilities.  According to some reports Chinese students at all levels are outperforming Americans, indicating that most western democracies have not paid enough attention to education.

Recently Lithuania defied China and accepted a Taiwan embassy.  I am sure they will pay a price, but a bigger group would make sure China also pays a price.  China needs us not only as consumers, but also as suppliers. This is not much leverage today, but if we as a whole are wise it could become more of a factor, but time is against us.

We are a month away from the Bejing Winter Olympics.  Some nations have decided not to send a diplomatic contingent which will probably not have much impact.  Many athletes are not going becasuse of the pandemic and some are protesting the treatment of a Chinese tennis star.  The really big thing is that the International Olympic Committee selected for this most prestigious event.  Money speaks louder than words.  Personally I love the Olympic ideal and would like to believe it is good for world peace, but perhaps not if authoritarian nations can use it for propaganda.

We are not unified enough as too many people and entities do not appreciate that we are all connected. 

Monday, January 3, 2022

Surga Yang Tak Dirindukan (The Heaven None missed)

A part of the world lives very different from what most of us (us Westerners, that is) and if we want to understand them we need to be aware of some cultural differences.  These two films are from Indonesia.  There is a moral dilemma depicted that would not be encountered in our culture, but is of interest.   ACT QUICKLY! Netflix has a deadline of January 27th.    They likley will be picked by another streamer--possibly Disney.  
Pras, a young boy witnesses his mother's suicide, years later he meets Rini.   Both are religious and in love.  They marry, have a girl while he has a responsible, but challenging job as an architect.  Driving he encounters an accident.  A woman is near death and he decides to drive her to the hospital and sticks around to see how she is doing.  She gives birth and shortly we learn she is suicidal (abandoned by a lover).  She jumps off a roof, but he is there to catch her.  She pleads to die and this drives him to promise marriage and shortly they are.  Pras names the boy Akbar.
Did I mention he is a Muslim?  When he returns home he learns his father in law has died and in passing learns further more that he had a second wife which is a bit upsetting to some of the relatives.  He decides not to tell his wife about his second wife.  His wife expresses disgust that her father had married a second woman.  He sets up a second household and learns his new wife is not religious, but sets out to teach her about the religion.  It is just a matter of time before Rini discovers the second marriage and she is very upset and forces him out.  He is very conflicted, but it turns out his mother in law knew about her husband's second wife and counsels patience and forgiveness.  Eventually circumstances conspire and  Rini ends up advising  Mei how to deal with Akbar's illness.  Further she becomes concerned about her husband's second family and tries to set up a household for all five.  Not over, but there isn't much left

 Sequel:   Another accident, another woman, this one from Malaysia, but despite some initial misgivings there is no repeat.   Meanwhile Rini has written a book and been invited to Budapest.  We learn that  Rini is at stage 4 cancer and wants Mei to fill her space.  It turns out Mei is also in Hungary (partly to escape her guilt feelings).  She finally has found a worthy man, Rini's doctor, Dr. Syariet.  Pras has felt it would be most ethical to divorce Mei, but Rini doesn't want that feeling Mei is the most logical replacement--at the last moment Rini seems to have caught on to Mei's new interest--Mei at first berated the doctor for not doing everything possible as he explained she refused all this strategies

 Suicide is a very grave sin and two of the characters had seen a parent commit it and Mei had attempted it herself.  Pras felt obligated to do whatever he could to prevent it and then he felt the need to keep his word.

Forgiveness is an easy thing to talk about, but can be very difficult.  The key people are Rini and her  mother.  Her mother feels forgiveness helps heals wounds.

What makes a movie go smoothly is the cast and crew.

Asma Nadia, novelist who has had several of her novels adapted to movies.  Near as I can tell they all have a Muslim theme.  She has also acted in a few movies and even produced one film.

Alim Sudio has written all three scripts for this series and done acting as well <check other browser>

Kuntz Agus directed only the first in this series

Hunung Bramantyo directed the second segment as well as helped to write script.  Meisa Felaroze co-directed the last two segments.

Manoj Punjabi  the producer of all three themed films.  He is the founder of MD Pictures, the largest media software company in Indonesia and as such deals with Disney where several of his films are schedukled.  He produced "Habibi and Ainum" (2012) that hit the highest Indonesian audience to date about 4.7 million.  

Fedi Nuril plays the leading male in all three versions.

Laudy Cynthia Bella plays the leading lady in the first two films of the series

Raline Shah plays the second wife in the first two scripts.  She goes from a desperate suicide attempt to a respectful.  She was award nominated for for this role

Landung Simatupang played the mother of Arini who suffered her own indignity, but calmed down her daughter..

Reza Rahadian plays Dr. Syarief who cares for Rini in Hungary.  He appears in the second two films  Also in "Habibi & Ainum" playing the lead and won a national award) and also "Kartini:Princess of Java" (2017).

At this point I am unsure how to see the final film, but suspect it might become available thru the Disney streaming.  There is already a moral dilemma lined up.  A reminder that time is running out for viewing on Netflix, January.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

2021 another disapointing year

 The Covid pandemic and the Trump regime marked 2020 as a nightmare. Access to more things opened up. New habits were formed with more online shopping and zoom meetings.   We noticed more people walking dogs.  One of our hi-lites is that we both got our double vaccination and the booster shot.   I blame anti vaxxers for the avoidable restrictions that have hampered our lives.  Now onto the more memorable events of the year.

 A new family member, Wrigley.


 Starting off with obituaries might seem strange.  It was sad to lose these people, but we look back on what they contributed to our lives.

Awhile back someone asked if we knew anyone who had died of Covid-19 and like many I answered no.  However an uncle who we had little recent contact with did succumb.  I remember Uncle Raymond partly because he shared and hosted what used to be a regular family ritual--Ukrainian Christmas Eve.  One year we gathered for a pre Christmas party and he dressed up as Santa Claus and was able to fool two of his youngest children.  I also remember another gathering when he joined with his brothers -in-law, Eugene Fedak and Louis Petrov to put on a musical show, but what made this one unique was that each of the three switched instruments and carried on.  Another link was that his daughter Elizabeth was the flower girl at our wedding.  I remember taking his son Dennis who has since played hockey with my brother in law Kerry, to a basketball game in Buffalo.

Colin Powell died of complications from Covid and cancer.  To me he always radiated calmness, common sense and courage.  He will be most remembered for a speech at the United Nations that should not have been made.   He was chosen because he had the most credibility of anyone with the George Bush administration and basically was told what to say.  He redeemed himself by pulling away from the administration and even from the Republican party.        

Desmond Tutu, a champion against the apartheid regime in South Africa.  He spoke gently, but in a sense carried a big stick.   "Do your little bit of good where you are.  It's those little bits of good put together that change the world."

E.O. Wilson is a scientist who many have not heard of.  He studied ants which might seem very petty, but he understood the workings of groups ,civilization and the meaning of life.  His books left such a strong impression on me that I did two blogs.

The lockdown has severely curtailed going out, but Heather and Laura gave us a zoom meeting (and the cheese and beer) through Grain and Grit, a local brewery on beer and cheese pairing.  I am more of a wine drinker, but learned a few things, certainly got some flavorable offerings.  Our leader was Hannah.  A bonus was no need to find a designated driver.


 When the lockdown eased enough we had some visitors.




 Sharon's birthday at Caro's on James St. North.  Later in the year we visited their Ottawa Street location.

Theodore Too Tugboat visits Hamilton from Halifax.





In late summer we got organized to put together a Rock Garden.  No more lawn mower!


 Outdoor Christmas meal under a gazebo.








New Years Eve was different from others of the last twenty years.  Most of the time we hosted a party of friends and one year we spent the midnight hour in Auckland, New Zealand.  This year we took out some excellent Thai food, watched two not particularly good movies and were in bed to watch the falling of the ball which was recorded we hope for a more festive time.

Covid Pandemic encourage reading and movie watching.

My 3 most popular blogs of the year:

Restaurants:  A short list of ones I enjoyed visiting.Culantro Peruvian Cookery,  Afrolicious, Pho B & T.,  Caro, Earth to Table

I was able to do a fair amount of reading:

I love movies which are really what my wife's Aunt May would call "stories."  Here are my 2021 English speaking favorites:

As is usually the case I find that my favorites come with those annoying subtitles (in the world there are actually a lot more of them): 

 You can check my blog for 2020:

 Next year has got to be better.