Sunday, February 27, 2022

Muhammad Ali by Ken Burns

 Black history month offers many bits of information and as it happens a very interesting DVD became available after a long wait.  Not really a boxing fan,but have come to realize Muhammad Ali had become a hero to millions of blacks and others around the world.

Muhammad Ali was in the news most of my life even though boxing was something that I paid little attention to.  The mini series put together under Ken Burns' guidance made me realize his life was more significant than most athletes.  First released to PBS television it is 8 hours long, but something unexpected seems to happen in every episode.

 Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky as Cassius Clay.  He did not do well in school and was thought to be dyslexic.    He stumbled on a boxing club that was both free and integrated.  At first not very notable, but applied himself and started leaving a mark winning a national Golden Glove award.  He qualified for the American Olympic team and winning the gold medal.  

My interest in the Olympics really got started with the Rome Olympics of 1960.  That was when Cassius Clay won a gold medal.  Afterwards he wasted little time turning professional.  A group of Louisville men characterized as gangsters took control of his career.  One of his models was wrestler Gorgeous George who was a self promoter and Cassius started spouting poetry and predictions.  Angelo Dundee became his trainer for most of his career.

His career took off and with his sense of humor and brashness he became a fan favorite.   Early on his group got the rights for closed circuit telecasts.  In his fight against Doug Jones he failed to knock out fans thought Jones won, but Clay won a decision (some said it was really a business decision).  His successes led to a title bout with Sonny Liston , an event my friends and I anticipated with contesting who could do the best "I am the Greatest."  This was an historic night that was recently turned into a movie commemorating a meeting involving football star Jim Brown, singer Sam Cooke and Malcom X.  He won the title. 

As his fight career developed he also became interested in the Muslim faith.  He talked to both Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X.  After winning the title he was ready to announce his commitment.    There was a feud between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad.  Cassius announced a new name with an early favorite being Clay X, but Muhammad Elijah suggested Muhammad Ali.

He married a non Muslim woman that had been chosen for him, but it ended in divorce.    Altogether he married three other women, all Muslim and had seven children.

Originally he had been classified as ineligible for the military draft, however as he became famous and switched religions there was resentment and complaints.  He was ruled eligible for the draft.  He is televised while being physically examined and when all that was done he refused induction.  During this time he not only talked with Muslim leaders, but also consulted with Martin Luther King who opposed the Vietnam War.  A lot of legal efforts were made that resulted in him spending a small time in prison,  Eventually his case went to the Supreme Court and his conviction was overturned.  Later he was given a Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush.

He changed his management group to the Nation of Islam.    Herbert Muhammad, son of Elijah became a manager and close friend to Ali.  At one point Malcolm X was expelled from the Nation of Islam and Muhammad also broke his relation to Malcolm X, a decision he later regretted.  Malcolm X was assassinated and there were connections to members of the Nation of Islam. 

After his declaration of being Muslim he had his boxing licence stripped from some jurisdictions.  Some of his future fights were determined by where he could legally fight.  Still he kept defeating opponents like Floyd Patterson, Henry Cooper, George Chuvalo, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier  Larry Holmes, Ernie Terrell.  He fought in London, England; Manila, Philippines and Brazzaville in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He became a  hero around the globe.  Lost only 5 times while winning 56 bouts and knocked out 37 of his opponents.

A personal note:  while working in the circulation department of the Etobicoke Guardian I had a minor dealing with the Chuvalo family.  Being able to not be knocked down by Ali in two fights he became a hero to Canadians.  

Muhammad Ali had wanted to retire many years before he did, but had financial concerns that required more fights.  He had been inactive for three and half years while legal details regarding his draft rejection.  Likely his boxing career led to Parkinson's.  This was a very humbling experience for the boxer.  A big, but very welcome surprise came when during the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta Ali took the torch and lit the flame.  He had been reluctant because he knew his body would be shaking.  

Ken Burns is a key person behind this series.  He has a long history of dealing with important people and events in depth  and comprehensively such as "The Civil War (1990), "Jazz" (2001), "Baseball" (1994 and 2010), "The Central Park Five" (2012), ""The Roosevelts:  An Intimate History" (2014) and "The Vietnam War" (2017). 

He was entertaining, but also generous and profound.  I will remember his slogan, "Floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee."  This series has been very mind opening.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Beijing Winter Olympics 2022

 A confession.  My enthusiasm for the Olympics has declined with age.  This year politics is disgustingly more obvious.  There are more distractions:  surviving the pandemic, the Canadian truck convoy, evidence mounting regarding the January 6th insurrection, Russian/Ukrainian crisis, and some interesting blog projects:  Muhammad Ali, Caste, My Holo Love, A Thursday. 

Russia poised on the Ukrainian border.  Vladimir Putin visited Xi Jinping and attended opening  for Olympics to help offset  diplomatic boycott of some western nations including Canada.  Apparently China does have closer relations with Ukraine including a need for natural resources and students.  At time of writing it seems very possible an invasion will occur blatantly after the U.S. and others have promised severe sanctions.  Tensing up, even as the Paralympic Games start in Beijing in less than two weeks.

Russia known here as ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) caught cheating is able to give its athletes the opportunity.  A young 15 year old Russian figure skater identified having used a forbidden drug reminding us how Russians were forbidden to compete under their flag.   As I understand it Russians have been known for drugs that permit prepubescent women to boost their performance, but which also harm them after puberty.  This should not be permitted and used to extend and/or increase Olympic sanctions.  In the women's single she was expected to win, but under a lot of pressure she fell and placed fourth.  Despite weeping under the pressure was not consoled by her coach as other losers had been.

A few months prior a Chinese tennis star Peng Suai had made a charge of being sexually assaulted by a Chinese government administrator, but that action was ignored and withdrawn.  The Women's Tennis  Association wasn't buying the explanations and decided to withdraw from planned tournaments in China at great cost to themselves.  This prompted some athletes to boycott the Olympics and some governments to use what they call a diplomatic boycott, meaning they would not lend any political prestige to China by sending prominent elected officials.  During the games, Peng Shuai announced she would retire in a press conference staged during the Olympics.  Very obviously manipulated and not taken seriously. 

The Covid Pandemic had multiple effects.  Several athletes decided to boycott on that account.  Others were affected during their training or forced to withdraw because of getting it.  The NHL had major problems rescheduling games and decided not to allow players to participate to allow an attempt to make up the lost games.  This affected several teams, but in the end Finland won its first hockey gold medal defeating the ROC in the finals.

The ancient Greek tradition was to suspend wars during the games and enter the competitions in a peaceful mode.  But the Chinese announced freedom of speech restrictions.  Athletes were advised not to bring cell phones.

China (and other nations) wanting to boost their rankings lured foreign athletes to participate under their flag.  Some athletes were not able to make their residential team and jumped at the chance.  China was successful at winning a gold medal this way as well as trying to be more competitive at weaker sports like ice hockey.

It has been suggested that it would be better to have a permanent site for both the Summer and Winter Olympics.  That in itself would be a political decision, but everyone could probably agree that Greece would be natural for the Summer Games.  A northern country would be necessary for the winter Games and for its neutrality Switzerland would be acceptable.  Then how it would be paid for should be an international effort with media and ticket revenues to contribute.

The Facilities were very impressive.   It was a shame that because of Covd protcols small crowds were normal.  Officials, journalists, some team mates and support staff took up some space, but sadly relatives who in many cases were the biggest fans were not allowed.   There are complaints that the facilities often wasted after the games.  Some become training facilities and could be used for international competitions.while otherrs adapted for other uses.

Using artificial snow for scarcity of the real thing.  Artificial snow contains more ice, making it faster. and in some ways more dangerous.  The winter Olympics and skiing resorts are at risk because of global warming.

 It was pointed out that this was the most gender neutral Olympics.  A few events required both female and males on the same team. 

Now for a few hi-lites.  February 4, 2022  brought a creative opening ceremony.  For some of us the ultimate was a visual presentation of John Lennon's "Imagine" in Chinese and English.  Traditions were respected and creativity was on display.

For a new set of events (several years ago in attempt to modernize) were snowboard and ski acrobatics.  In a way they offer an alternative to the diving spectacle.  In diving they are short in time and demanding.  In the winter sports there is usually more time to perform and perhaps spectators can catch more of the fine points.  Heavier clothes probably inhibit motions, but in the future restrictions might be alleviated.

Short track speed skating is only a few years and definitely require different skills.   It is an outgrowth of Quebeckers adopting hockey rinks for speed contests, but is now well accepted around the world.  Relay races are handled differently than we are used in track events, but very interesting in their exchanges.  In track there are boundaries and of course the danger of dropping a baton.

Another event that deserves greater appreciation is the biathlon.  It requires intense speed and endurance, but the heart needs to slow down for shooting.  One of the events had to deal with inconsistent wind bursts that in effect handicapped some athletes that had to fight the wind in their shooting efforts.  

There were a few heroes from a Canadian perspective.  Max Parrot, from Bromont Quebec stands out winning gold in snowboard slopestyle, three years after undergoing chemo therapy for Hodgkins lymphona.  The women's hockey team with local goal maker, Sarah Nurse, won gold over perennial American rivals. The Canadian women beat the Russian women's team while wearing masks.  Isabelle Weidermann, won three medals including a gold for pursuit speed skating.  In the pursuit event Valeie Maltuis was a short track skater who is only the fourth athlete to win in both skating disciplines.  Isabelle became the Canadian flag bearer for the Closing Ceremonies.  

I misunderstood the tv. schedule and almost missed my favorite, the skating exhibition.  CBC showed after the closing ceremonies as I imagine they wanted to cover some actual events finishing up at the same time.

Learned of a personal connection.  Benjamin Coakwell, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan was part of the four man bobsled team that won a bronze medal.  I don't know how he is related, but have been assured that anyone named Coakwell is related to me, as the original immigrants to Canada had been called Cawkwell.  My mother was a Coakwell.

The Olympics is a major big festival that draws global attention.   It provides entertainment, but also encourages participation and awareness, not only for elite athletes, but also recreational. To a small degree it actually does promote world peace, but under present management falls far short of saving mankind.

Also although impressed with athletes on display, am somewhat turned off by an increasing circus atmosphere.   The Olympics has grown with inclusion of new sports and events.  I have sympathy for gender balance and recognize that more sports offer more opportunities for recreation as well.  The difference between gymnastics and circus is that one requires the athlete to make difficult things look easy while the circus performers make easy things look difficult.  The Olympics has gotten too money oriented and carnival-like.  This is not to distract from amazing athletic performances, but too much of a good thing detracts from value.

My lifelong passion for the Olympics will be tested.  In my early adult years I was obsessed with American style football and would watch over 10 hours a week during season.  A comment from a friend, about how football players are encouraged to injure their opponents turned me right off and I probably watch less than half an hour per year combining NFL, CFL and American and Canadian college games.    I do intend to watch the upcoming Paralympics with its unique aspirations but am also concerned for their future.

My last Winter Olympics blog:

Saturday, February 19, 2022

My Holo Love mixes science fiction and romance

"My Holo Love"(2020) uses science fiction as a tool for a different kind of romantic dramedy.  We are all familiar with love triangles, unrequited love and of course happy endings despite misunderstandings and obstacles.   The scope is a little different, but a lot of familiar relationships are part of the makeup.

 Science fiction lets loose our imagination.  The concept of holograms is still fairly new and opens up new doors for story telling.  Human nature is pretty stable, although the rules we live by are changing.  When you allow your mature snobbery to overcome juvenile obsessions it opens up possibilities.  For me I feel I have to some extent been liberated:

Decades ago read a book suggesting holograms would be the main way of communicating and relating to other humans.   The underlying motivation was germophobia.  There have always been in modern times fear of being contaminated, but pandemics and pollution has increased the trend.    In this series holograms are seen as very sophisticated servants, but also gain an unexpected personal context.  In reality as life has existed many of us have felt our relationships have been inadequate, even fearful.

 We are introduced to the main hologram through a scientific investment presentation.  At first we do not realize whar we are watching, but then special effects are used and we lose all doubt.  Having a monopoly or at least a head start a hologram with artificial intelligence appeals to both greed and fear.  Rivals want to learn the secret.  A young woman, apparently unconnected is drawn into the intrigues.  We learn she has a visual handicap that has affected her social skills.  The Holo as she calls him helps her "magically" solve a technical problem.  Being invisible to the general public allows Holo to give timely advice and even manipulate the electronic grid.  

We become aware of more characters and gradually their background that inter connect.  The technology seems to some of us far fetched, but in fact there are intelligent people working towards an amazing future.  I remember watching "Eye in the Sky" (2015) with Helen Mirren and some amazing drones.  It was explained later that the drones were considered science fiction when they started filming, but before too long they were reality.

There is also romance and suspense.  You can look to the future or concentrate on the many plot twists.  The science fiction (?) is a useful tool to enjoy and to understand human nature.

The smooth sailing is due to the cast and crew.

The listed director is Go Sung Hee, but really no further information.

Hyun-min Yoon played both Holo and Holo's creator.  Hard nosed at the beginning, but mellowing by what the Holo had learned of human emotions.

Ko Sung-see played the leading female.

Yeo-jin Choi played sister to Holo's creator.

Lee-Yoo -mi had appeared in "Squid Game" (2021) 

Lee Jeong-eun, a veteran actress played the mother of the female protagonist.  She has been in "Mother" (2009), "The Attorney" (2013), "The Wailing" (2016), "Okja" (2017), "Parasite" (2019) and "Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha" (2021).

If you like romance, comedy, drama and can tolerate science fiction you will probably enjoy this series.  I recommend the subtitled version over the dubbed.  I find with dubbed films there is a little cognitive dissonance, meaning it adds to the strangeness to the viewer. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

The Message is a Spoiler A Thursday

The finish of this movie "A Thursday" (2022) is very moving, in fact has a strong message.  Unfortunately it is a spoiler and for many of my readers it is probably inaccessible for the moment.  It was released to Hula, known as Hotstar in Canada, but is also connected to the Disney Network in the United States and the rest of the world. 

 It is a tense story, but also incongruous.  A teacher of young children quietly lets it be known she is holding 16 children as hostages and will be making demands later.  The first investigator quickly decides that it is a prank until a gunshot is fired.  A negotiator who happens to be pregnant arrives, but is quickly told that the teacher wants a different negotiator, a subordinate and we learn there is resentment between the two.  The first had already called in a combat unit and is ready to charge in, but the second negotiator stops them for the time being.  The teacher this time is controlling the children with cartoons, games and food and is well loved by the children.  She is a very smart negotiator and soon gets national television attention.  

We learn that the teacher has anti-depressant pills and this just seems to confirm that she must be crazy.  She demands a sum of money and to talk to the Prime Minister who is a woman.  All the Prime Minister's advisors tell her not to talk as it would only encourage others.  She is adamant that she does not want to be thought of as callous about the children.  Her staff actually go behind her back and claim she will not talk to the hostage taker, but she finds out and is furious.  The climax of the movie occurs when the two meet.

The teacher/hostage taker is not crazy, but realizes to have her concern paid attention to she had to take drastic action.  The message is strong and at the start of the credits we are all reminded.  I will respect the intent of the producers that the message will have more impact if not revealed too soon.  I assure you that your attention will be riveted.   This movie will likely win some awards, but more than most awarded movies it will leave the viewers stunned.

To put such a film to the public requires an impressive cast and crew.

 Behzad Khambata is the first time director and co-writer after a few sessions as assistant director.

The producers include Ronnie Screwvala with such films as "Rang De Basanti" (2006),  "Barfi" (2012),  "Kai Po Che" (2013)  and "Uri:  The Surgical Strike" (2019).  Read:

The background music which adds to the tension is by Kaizad Gherda.  He has been writing for movies and tv. series since 2010.  There are none of the usual Bollywood dance scenes.

Cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan has worked on such films as "Shubh Mangal Savdhan" (2017), and "Bala" (2019).  Siddharth Vasani, the other cinematographer was with the camera crew for "Uri:  The Surgical Strike" (2019).

Editor Sumeet Kotian   was an assistant editor for "Drishyam" (2015) and associate editor for "Madaari" (2016).

Yami Gautam was outstanding as the teacher/hostage taker    Her role was demanding as she played a very charming teacher, but also an outraged hostage taker.  Yami studied law and later did many commercials .  She has starred in such films as "Vicky Donor" (2012), "Badlapur" (2015), "Kaabil" (2017), "Uri:  The Surgical Strike" (2019) and"Bala" (2019).

Atul Kulkarni played the requested negotiator who had to deal with superiors wanting more action and also the recipient of surprises.  He has been in such films as "Hey Ram" (2000), "Page 3" (2005), "Rang De Basanti" (2006) and "The Ghazi Attack" (2017).

Neha Dhupia played the pregnant original negotiator who kept butting in and uncovering information.  She has appeared in such films as "Dasvidanyia" (2008), "Hindi Medium" (2017), "Qarib Qarib Single" (2017) and "Lust Stories" (2018)

Dimple Kapadia played the Prime Minister as an admired independent leader.  Dimple became a major star at age 16 in "Bobby" (1973).  She married an older star, Rajesh Khanna and quit films.  She did get back in another ten years and appeared in such movies as "Dil Chahta Hai" (2001), "Luck by Chance" (2009), "Finding Fanny" (2014) and "Tenet" (2020).

This has been the highest rated movie seen this year and is likely to remain in the top three.  Worth an effort.   

As usual I have bolded first mentions of other films.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Three films of Melvin Van Peebles

 Watched "Watermelon Man" (1970) a very good satire on American race relations.  From special features learned Melvin Van Peebles, the director spoke French.  He had come to France not knowing the language, but gradually worked his way to writing for French magazine.  From there he learned if a French writer could get a temporary directing permit after failing to get a directing job in the United States.

From there I learned about a film,  "How To Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It)" (2005) with more details of Melvin's film history.  The title came from a remark that Melvin liked eating watermelon, even though it was stereotypical which he thought was no reason to deny any enjoyment.  Born in Chicago, after military service worked as a portrait painter in Mexico and then he spent time in the Netherlands studying astronomy.  The he moved to France learning the language, got experience and moved on to writing novels.  

In the course of his life he also became a Wall St. trader who wrote an investment boo a singer/song writer and a Broadway director who had been nominated for a Tony award.  

His first feature film was "The Story of a 3 Day Pass" (1967) based on his novel.  It is mostly in French.   A simple story of an American soldier, Turner played by Harry Baird gets a 3 day pass.  The protagonist meets a friendly French woman, Miriam who speaks fair English.   At one point he hears subtle racist words meant to diminish him  and starts a fight.   Flashes of Africans shown to demonstrate stereotypical views and fantasies of some Europeans.  Some familiar American soldiers encounter the couple at beach (Normandy) and told their captain.  The captain who had said kind words to justify the 3 day pass, feels betrayed and takes away a promised promotion and confines  to barracks.  By a "fluke a group of Negro women singing spirituals shows up by bus.  Turner as "one of their own" is asked to give them a tour.   He was a big hit with the group and the leader wants to "fix it" (his detention in barracks).   He got relief, but when he tried to phone Miriam was told she was off sick.   The film ends with him flopping in his bed disappointed and thinking it was an excuse.  Harry Baird was born in British Guiana and did a lot of films in Britain and then traveled to Italy and France for more film work.

 He was given a chance to direct a movie and after reading the script made some changes.  It was supposed to be about a white man suddenly being changed to a black man.  Melvin wanted a black man to start off using whiteface and at the end changed original script of turning back to white to staying black.  Godfrey Cambridge was a good choice playing an insurance salesman who had misled and taken advantage of blacks, but as a black man advised them to abandon policies. although "it's not personal."  He was treated differently by his co workers and his neighbors paid to have him move to protect their house values.  One co worker felt he was sexier as a black man, but after a bed room scene eventually rejected her realizing that she didn't value him as a person.   He had a very small uncredited role.  Melvin won an award for his music for Watermelon Man (noted Paul Williams had a small role).

Melvin's best known film was "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song."  He produced, wrote, directed and acted in it.  At first to the censor board X rated it and he protested with a tag line and a T shirt, "Rated Xby an all white jury."  It went on to successful distribution and is said to have ushered in films that were considered 'blakploitation."  Originally Melvin identified that there was a market for movies reflecting black culture and music.  Not everyone considered it a healthy trend, but black culture was now available for the general public and generating profits.

This project got started because it seemed strange that a black American would speak French and then get his start in French film.  In fact it was common for American artists to get a start in France. The world benefits by its global connections.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Caste was thought to be another form of racism, however the author points out that caste is more basic.  Caste is society's way of classifying and ranking humans and it can be done in many forms.  Racism is a common factor in caste,   Racism is a tool that fits with caste, but other tools are available. Human psychology is more basic.

Wilkerson focuses on three examples of a caste system, the United States, India and Nazi Germany.  Martin Luther King Jr. had formed the idea that the caste system  of India had similar characteristics to Jim Crow America.  On a visit to that country he was surprised to learn that he was considered an "untouchable."  At first he thought it strange, but later agreed.  To the Indian  that term, "untouchable" was the lowest of the low.  

Bhimrao Ambedkar was born an untouchable, but as an educated and politically active man he was able to change the official designation  to "Dalit" which translates to "broken."

Europeans in North America at first tried to use indigenous people as slaves, but found they were too subject to European diseases, but learned that Africans were not.  Many Americans think slavery is old history, but in fact it formed a key factor in the American economy that has impacts today.

Wilkerson notes 8 pillars of a caste system.  It has a divine justification.  Your rank is inheredited.  Endogamy meaning marriage and sex only within the caste.  Purity must be maintained with very restricted contact.  A division of labor which dictates your occupation is dictated by one's position in the hierarchy meaning the most distasteful jobs are done by the lowest.  The lowest are dehumanized in a variety of ways.  Rules are enforced by terrorizing.  Superiority of the dominant caste is demanded on every occasion.

It is common for the dominant caste to use the the subservient caste as scapegoats.  The Nazis famously blamed Jews for their loss in the Great War.  Confederates blamed their former slaves for their loss.  Today blacks are blamed for high crime rates and drugs.  Whites with money commercialized  marijuana and CBD.  Blaming blacks for economic problems overlooked that they had very little influence on the economy and were more often the victims.  

The 2008 financial crisis had its roots in abuse of blacks.  They had been targeted for subprime loans that were misleading, leading to ever greater debt.  Proving successful, the financiers moved to whites.  The end result was houses were abandoned and investors found themselves with declining assets.  

Black American men have relatively high blood pressure compared to white men.  Sub Saharan men actually have lower blood pressure.  Prejudice does have an impact.  Black women die at higher rates when giving birth.  Life expectancy is less for blacks than whites.  However it should be noted that the overall expectancy for Americans is the lowest of all the major industrial countries.  Education results are also poorer for relative lack of financial support/  

Albert Einstein, the great physicist had fled Germany just before the Nazis had taken over.  He identified blacks as oppressed and spoke up.  He had provided housing for famous singer Marian Anderson when she had been refused hotel accommodation in Princeton, New Jersey.  Einstein joined the NAACP and spoke out against lynching.  He felt "I can escape the feeling of complicity in it <lynching> only by speaking out."

By 2042 non whites are predicted to be in the majority of Americans, creating fear and repulsion among whites.  Wilkerson points out that whites are not likely to lose their dominant financial powers.  In South Africa whites have maintained a strong economic position.  It may also turn out the definition of "white" might loosen a bit.  

Wilkerson points out that Germany has no monuments to Nazism, but did for the victims.  Displaying a swastika was a punishable crime.  The government pays restitution to the Nazi victims, including to the state of Israel.  By contrast the American government paid restitution to the former slave holders rather than to the former enslaved. 

Black movie stars and athletes have moved up in class, but not caste .  They could still be humiliated and reminded that they are part of subordinate caste.  Slave owners often listened to their slaves singing and liked to see their smiling faces and as a demonstration of thier power, encouraging their underlings to entertain as a show Hattie McDonald won the first Oscar for a black, but had to play a very subordinate role to Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara.

Barrack Obama was supposed to herald the post racial era.  Isabel offers contrary evidence.  Both Barrack and his wife were both Harvard grads and good speakers.  They were up against John McCain who made a few mistakes, including picking Sarah Palin as a running mate.  To tip the scales further towards Obama there was a financial disaster just before the election.  Despite these advantages Obama lost the white vote, with only 43% of the white vote in 2008 which fell to 39% in 2016.  Not only that but hate groups increased membership.  

In 2016, white women preferred Donald Trump, a fraudster and womanizer to Hilary Clinton, a champion of women"s rights.  Wilkerson maintains that unlike the Republicans the Democrats didn't support their base enough.  Evangelicals, the base for the Republicans wanted a ban on abortions, restrict immigration, protect gun rights, a denial of climate change and these desires were reflected in the Republican platform.  Wilkerson feels the Democrats don't support their base which is blacks and other non whites to the same degree, taking their votes too much for granted.

About the same time while reading this book I also watched a satirical film "Watermelon Man" (1970) written and directed by Melvin Van Peebles.  A bigoted man is transposed to be a black man and we see a lot of payback, but some insight. Apparently as a white man the Godfrey Cambridge character had sold one sided insurance policies to black families, but as a black man he advised them to change their policies to something fairer.  Neighbors wanted him to move to protect their house values--but "it's not personal."  His wife was upset and said he was taking advantage of their "friends" by being a negro.  At least one woman finds him sexier, but in the end he feels she doesn't appreciate him as a person.

Isabel Wilkerson's last words sum up what could be our future, "A world without caste would set everyone free."  

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Knock Down the House

 It was on my list that Netflix offers for several months.  In a mood of indecision I decided to actually watch.  It may be too late to promote it as time has moved on, but it is very educational and inspiring.

 As for many documentaries they had a limited budget.  As some critics pointed out it consisted largely of self conscious interviews.  Another critic wishes they had added Ihan Omar to the mix, but that points out the unfair expectations.  The film makers could have no idea who might win. Who might put on a good "show"?  We see four candidates trying to beat the establishment and were fortunate that one of them was victorious.  The one winner has come on to be a major political "star" who is doing good things.

A good hunk of American voters (and outsiders in Canada) feel the Republicans are all evil and leading America in the wrong direction.  The problem is deeper.  The real problem is the role of money with all prospective politicians needing large amounts of money that comes with strings.  The Republicans might have the inside track on the wealthy, but the Democrats are able to attract big donors, but with obligations that run against voters.

The producers decided to concentrate on a grassroots effort to boost four women with a progressive agenda up against established moderate Democrats.   They all had a good story to tell and a formidable opposition.

Paula Jean Swearengin was up against Joe Manchin.  We now know Joe has a strong corporate donor base that actually works against his constituents.  As a coal miner's daughter Paula Jean was very concerned about Manchin not really helping the actual coal miners and their families that had high rates of cancer deaths.  We hear from Joe with condescending words that on the surface may sound gracious.

Amy Vilela was in Nevada and was upset about the health care system that had led to her young daughter's  death.  I think it was her who noted that Joe Crowley (see below) had donated to her Nevada opponent and we learned that her primary was before Alexandria's so that Crowley wanted to assure that an upset did not occur before he had to face another upstart. 

Cori Bush was a nurse in Missouri and had been jolted by the police shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.  She felt  things would not change and decided to tackle the incumbent whose family had held the seat for over a generation.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took on Joe Crowley who had been generating $3 million from corporate sponsors.  He didn't even show up for a debate, sending a substitute.   Still it seemed most people were intending to vote for him again.

Because as we all know AOC won we see more of her campaign efforts.   She did not think of running, but a grassroots organization encouraged her brother to nominate her.  After interviews she was accepted as a candidate for the upcoming primary.  To be official they needed 1,200 signatures, but knowing the Crowley campaign team would scrutinize for discrepancies they aimed for 10,000.  Door knocking was a new experience for Alexandria.  She encountered many who automatically intended to vote for her more experienced opponent, apathetic voters and others not even willing to talk.  She had her first debate where she got to challenge her opponent who didn't show up, on a number of issues making a good impression.  Later she held a rally that drew a lot of attention and made an impression on the press.   Finally Crowley offered a public debate and we were shown lots of condescending remarks from him, but also a few zingers in reply like we have become used to from Alexandria.  Along the way we met her family and her very supportive boyfriend, Riley Roberts.  

Unfortunately her other deserving colleagues did not do as well .  Alexandria pointed out that it could well take 100 progressives so that one could break through.  We wonder why with so much public support that climate change is resisted by politicians.  We wonder why with the rest of the industrial world offering more comprehensive health care that Americans still lack care that could save literally millions of lives.

For me this movie gave insights into what prospects for those unsupported by corporations can expect.  Voters are easily manipulated.  Below are two of the people who took a chance and gave everyone great awareness.

Rachel Lears was the director, writer, cinematographer and producer.    Married to Robin Blotnick who was a writer, editor and producer.  The two received awards for "The Hand that Feeds" (2014) and "Knock the House Down."  Documentaries do not draw the audiences that blockbusters do but they help boost awareness of societal problems and even societal solutions.  Progressive politics is mocked by many, especially by those with opposing vested interests and even those sympathetic tend to express the helplessness of their case.  But they are not helpless if the rest of us can offer some encouragement.

This film was educational, but that is an ongoing process. An earlier bout of learning came when I was involved as campaign worker:

Friday, February 4, 2022

Newton's Cradle

Netflix has been reaching out further to get more films to fill your time.  This year I have noticed more films in Arabic, from different countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan and Egypt.

One very interesting choice was "Newton's Cradle" (2021) from Egypt a series that is partially filmed in the United States.  When many of us think of Egypt we think of the fascinating ancient history or of more recent riots.  There are to be sure many differences, but the series depicts a more modern Egypt and one where its citizens do not feel out of place in America.

One of the first things that will strike you is the difference in size between the central characters, Hana and Hazem with him looking to be about double her size.  We see her approaching a U.S. customs agent with a voice in her ear which is coming from Hazem in Egypt.  With a few mishaps she gets through, but her difficulties are just beginning.  The reason she is there is because she finally got pregnant and the two of them agreed it would be an advantage to have their child born in America to gain instant citizenship.  Right wingers are upset about that fact. 

She still had several months to go before she is due.  In that time she meets interesting people who rescue her from immediate problems.  One is a very modern young man who is Egyptian and introduces her to a different lifestyle that is offensive to strict Muslims.  Another is much more polished and powerful, Moaness a successful business man with interests in both America and Egypt.  

The birth is premature and a bit scary, common enough in many films, but her life changes by her reaction.  She becomes hysterical and fearful.  The nurses and the doctor make a big decision and tell her at one point that the baby is dead and later that it is in an incubator (true).  She seeks help from Moaness who with help from a lawyer is able to bring the baby back to its mother.  

A few complications ensue.   Her husband has had difficulties contacting her and forms an opinion that she has been leading an immoral life and right in the middle of her birthing pain divorces her over the phone.  Meanwhile Moaness who is already married decides this is an opportunity to marry a very desirable woman.  He intervenes to allow her to maintain a relationship with her new son by using scripture from the Qu'ran to marry him.  This of course exacerbates her relation with Hazem.

Hazem is having his own complications.  He manages an apiary (on Hana's advice) and it is attacked.  Hazem is able to get the bees to attack the actual marauder to kill him.  Strangely the wealthy landlord, Badr decides to make Hazem a partner and encourages him to develop organic honey.  He then forces Hazem to develop honey from opium plants.  His motive is different than you might suppose.  

Meanwhile Moaness wants to consummate his marriage, but Hana stalls.  They both end up in Egypt to try to persuade Hazem to legally finalize the divorce.  If this sounds complicated there are more involving pride, love, betrayal, etc.

One of the last lines of the series paraphrased is "We will have to learn to know each other again"  Humans are strange creatures.  Part way it was upsetting to hear three different characters curse and scream at one another with words that would be hard to take back.  It seemed unreal, but upon reflection I realized it was all too real.  The two men, Moaness and Hazem were both rational, but both wanted to control Hana and both at different times felt betrayed.  Hana also felt betrayed while doing what seemed necessary to keep her son.

On the whole this is a worthy series filmed in America and Egypt with most chapters including scenes from both countries.  You will see a contrast between cultures, but also appreciate the interaction going on.  It consists of 30 episodes each under one hour.  The cast is excellent as so obviously is the crew that put this complex film together.

Tamer Mohsen, was director, writer and involved with production.  From the age of 7 he was fascinated by marionettes and later was able to do an award winning play using marionettes.  He graduated from an engineering university and worked that field for 7 years before pursuing his dream.  

Adam Horner, was a producer in America.  He was an Australian actor before getting involved in international films.   

Tamer Karawan also studied engineering, but then studied music in London.   He wrote his first score in 1998 and has gone onto do music for 80 films.  The score for this film supports the mood.

Mahmoud Youssef handled the cinematography.  Emad Maher and Wael Farag were editors.

Mona Zaki played the lead, Hana with perhaps the most demanding role.  She was rational, but could get hysterical and do a range of emotions.  Winner of many awards in the Middle East.

Muhammad Mamdooh played Hezem.  A simple proud man, but not stupid. 

Sayed Ragab played Badr, a wealthy man who at first tried to shut down Hezem's operation and then coerced him into being a partner and getting involved with opium.  

Muhammad Farrag played Moaness, a wealthy Egyptian in America who like the devil could quote scripture.  The most worldly and sophisticated of the characters.  But he too could lose his temper.

Watching this over a few weeks I had mixed feelings, but in the end I was very impressed.  It has suspense, romance with a very professional production values.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Freedom and the law

 The truck convoy to Ottawa has inspired me to point out the short sighted thinking involved that affects everyone.

Laws seem the opposite of freedom, but are they really?  A phrase learned as a youngster, "Your freedom ends at my nose."  In this modern age we recognize that we can be hurt by more than just a punch-we know about pollution, climate change, cigarette smoke, drunk drivers, shoddy construction, opioids  and viruses.  Consider there are also people who would like to cheat us and we all want protection against the many varieties of that effort.   Laws including mandates could be considered as regulations:

Early in our primitive history we appreciated that a strong man could pretty much get his way and in effect had the most freedom. However our ancestors, i.e. the ones that survived long enough to propagate realized there were common (less civilized) enemies, even more deadly than our strongest man.  Even the strongest man recognized he needed the support of those weaker.  Collective rights might not have been articulated in the early stages of our development, but in effect they were the mechanism that helped us survive.  In less civilized times viable Leaders might seem to be in charge, but only because others allow them to be:

As mankind "advanced" some people did indeed become very powerful and could exploit others.   An historical example was King John in England, but he reached a limit when he wanted more money to go to war and was forced to accept the Magna Carta which was a critical step on the way to democracy.  Since then other men (and some women) have reached the heights of power usually by exploiting others.  

More recently wealthy elites have leveraged their resources to control  and exploit the masses.  The American political system depicts one example:

On the other hand there really is such a thing as "the tyranny of the majority."  Often progressive ideas are resisted by the status quo.  Misinformation or intimidation is used to get one's way.   

There is a need for a balance.  The majority should be respected, however should you disagree, by all means protest.  The majority needs to listen to the minority and evaluate their message.  In our current situation accurate information is vital.  If the anti vaxxers are adamant they are right they still need to respect the rights of the rest to protect ourselves and our loved ones.  Isolation seems the most logical option. 

Truck drivers play an important role in our economy and certainly are critical in our supply chain that is under stress.  I am a proud son of a trucker who thought a lot deeper than the convoy truck drivers.