What to Watch, What to Read and What to Listen to… August 2022

What to Watch…

You could watch Bosch: Legacy on Amazon Prime.   The first series of Bosch (also on Prime) is about Detective Harry Bosch, a maverick detective in the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Dept).  His sense of justice and honour is super acute,  but also career-limiting. He sees most people – men and women — as bad guys, and he has no qualms about dealing with them in whatever way he sees fit. The police chief is always trying to short-circuit Bosch’s activities, but seldom manages.  In the new series, Bosch has left the police force and operates his own detective agency.  His daughter, Maddie, has graduated from police college and starts her job as a “boot” in the LAPD.  As Bosch has little respect or time for the city police, he walks a fine line between supporting his daughter, and ruining her dream job. Here’s the trailer

A Turkish series, Fatma, is worth watching.  I have a lot of time for Turkish films and series, because unlike most American and even British series, those from Turkey have a rather nuanced view of life, of family and of emotions.  Fatma works as a cleaner at the food court of a shopping mall.  To make extra money, she has two private clients.  She cleans the apartments of an older man who is a well-known novelist; she also cleans for a socialite with a five year old daughter.  Fatma’s husband has disappeared—just after his release from jail.  She has some urgent news for him about their son. In six episodes we find out a lot about her stubbornness to get to the truth, and the will of many men, including the police to ensure that does not happen.  It’s on Netflix. Here’s the trailer.

On Kanopy, I watched the 2017 feature film, The Girl in the Fog.  You can watch the trailer here The film takes place in the South Tyrol region of Italy that few of us tourists have visited.  It is shot in winter in Nova Levante, a town about 20 km from Bolzano in the Dolomite mountains – which I’ve have visited a few times. – It is not far from the Brenner Pass which links Italy to Austria.  The film’s key figure is Detective Vogel, played by the famous Italian actor Toni Servillo.  He goes to the town to investigate the disappearance of a 16-year-old school girl. Vogel finds out that most of the townsfolk are members of an Evangelical Christian church—which arouses his contempt as well as his ire.  The movie is  a real who-dunit and a thriller.  The twist is unexpected and welcome. 

Images of Nova Levante, Italy where The Girl in the Fog was filmed

An excellent short film is Play Time, which you can watch on Kanopy here This Swedish film is only 15 minutes long – perfect.  In a huge shopping mall, a young mother is being driven crazy by her wilful three-year-old son, Nico.  To calm herself down, she walks away from him briefly – when she returns he has disappeared.  We find out more about the mother – and worry (needlessly as we discover) about Nico. Play Time was nominated for best short film at the Berlin International Film Festival.

On Netflix, I watched the first season and I’m working on the second of The Newspaper.  This series comes from Croatia and again is very different from most mainstream films or series from the US or Britain.  Much of the action takes place in the newsroom of the largest circulation paper in the city of Rijeke, a major port city on the Adriatic. It’s about 130 km from Croatia’s capital, Zagreb. From the film, the city looks a bit like Halifax, but more industrial and far more interesting.  Indeed the EC (European Commission) named Rijeka the European Capital of Culture in 2020.

Bird’s Eye view of Rijeke, Croatia

 An older hard-drinking capitalist sells The Newspaper to a local gangster, and the fallout is the backdrop for this multi-season series.  Some reporters in the newsroom want the old days back when Croatia was part of the former Yugoslavia—when there were unions, a living wage, and solidarity among journalists in the newsroom. Others prefer the precarious situation under a new millionaire boss – who I have to say ends up in jail.  But not for long.  I started watching this while on a short holiday with friends, and now I’m addicted to season two. Here’s the trailer

Symbols for Ozark, Season 4

Also on Netflix you could watch  the final season of Ozark.  I liked the first three seasons, but the fourth season is a bit of a drag.  None of the characters win your sympathy, let alone your pity.  But it’s worth watching– it’s American gangsta at its best.  Accountant Marty Byrd says to his wife Wendy, “I’m so sick of having blood on my hands, aren’t you?” She replies “You’re so desperate to be the good guy!” It’s morbidly funny when you see the real bad guys get dispatched by the Byrd family. But the family despite it being frayed, frantic, and fearful is still very greedy. Here’s the trailer

What to Read….

The Aging Student Debtors of America: Picture a 81-year-old with $173,000 of student debt.  Karin Engstrom was a career counsellor who, in middle age, returned to school for another degree.  How about Mary Ann, a 91-year-old lawyer?  Granddaughter of a Virginia slave, Mary Ann earned an BA and an MA in education.  But in 1983, at age 53, she decided to better herself by borrowing $29,000 to study law at New York University.   Today her student debt has ballooned to $329,309.69.  For the last thirty years, she has worked as a lawyer for a non-governmental organization and paid little better than minimum wage.  She retired just a few months  ago.  Mary Ann notes her career trajectory could have been different had she graduated before hitting her mid-50s, and had she not been Black.   Ruefully, she admits she had to sell her home, and now lives in a modest apartment that needs new carpets and a fresh paint job.  I read The Aging Student Debtors of America in the New Yorker here, which told me that one in five student debtors in the US are over age 50.  Student debt in the US stands at  $1.6 trillion.  Though President Biden is “considering” writing off up to $50,000 per borrower, it wouldn’t put a dent in either Karin or Mary Ann’s debt.

“Americans 62 and older are the fastest growing demographic of student borrowers”

From The Aging Student Debtors of America in The New Yorker
Karin Engstrom, age 81, has a student debt of $173,000. (credit: Jovelle Tamayo: The New Yorker)

The Obedient Father– a great novel

An Obedient Father is an excellent novel by Akhil Sharma.  Ram Karan, is a man in his late 50s who lives in Delhi, India.  He lives with his widowed daughter and 8-year-old granddaughter. He didn’t complete high school, yet has a lowly job in the education department; he counts and catalogues sports equipment in school gyms.  But his real job is more political; he shakes down wealthy (and not so wealthy) Indians for donations to the Congress Party – the party of the 100 plus year old Nehru-Ghandi dynasty.  The novel, which starts out as a political thriller, reveals a personal crisis for Mr Karan.  This book is amazing, and well worth reading.  

One of my favourite political essayists and analysts  is Vijay Prashad.  Born in India, Prashad is an academic in the US. He’s a Marxist and a firm critic of Israel.  Because of his support for Palestine, he nearly lost a faculty job.

“In 2010, Prashad was appointed to head the newly formed Trinity Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, at Trinity College. A group of professors wrote a letter protesting the appointment based on “the prominent role he has played in promoting a boycott of Israeli universities and of study abroad in Israel”.After initially refusing to meet with them, Trinity President James Jones eventually met with representatives from Jewish organisations, including the Connecticut Jewish federation, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartfordon 14 September 2010. One participant reported a “veiled threat” to have Jewish donors “weigh in”. The university backed Prashad and rejected attempts to rescind his appointment,”

from Wikipedia entry here

But Prashad actually won the battle. Today dozens of academics and others have lost their jobs or not been hired if they dare to criticize Israel. The University of Toronto’s Law School came under fire when it rescinded a job offer made to Valentina Azarova in 2020. David Spiro, an Ontario tax judge who is Jewish and an ardent Israel supporter, was a major donor to the law school as were his wealthy friends. He exerted undue pressure to ensure Azarova, who is an international legal expert on human rights, did not get the job. Earlier in her career, she had done research which supported Palestinian human rights. For that reason, the Law School was set to deny her the job. There was major pushback from U of T faculty, especially at the Law School, from students and from the public. All were outraged over the university’s refusal to hire Azarova. The political interference by Spiro and pro-Israel donors was laid bare for all to see.

Months and months later, U of T did offer her the job– but Azarova declined.

Left: Dr Valentina Azarova. Tax Court Judge David Spiro (right) made a “serious error” in involving himself in a University of Toronto hiring decision that became an international scandal, but it wasn’t bad enough to remove him from office, a review panel for the Canadian Judicial Council has found. (from the Toronto Star)

Prashad’s publishing company

The Azarova case is an example of the type of heavy-handedness and outrageous behaviour Prashad has endured because of his support for Palestinians. He has authored dozens of books, is the director of  Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and chief editor of LeftWord Books.  His take on current events and questions of imperialism and race is right on, as they say.  This article The World does not want a Global NATO is excellent.  Published in Consortium News here, Prashad writes that unlike the US and Canada, most nations do not want to renew the cold-warrior organization, NATO. As he writes,

“Governments representing 6.7 billion people – 85 percent of the world’s population – have refused to follow sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies against Russia, while countries representing only 15 percent of the world’s population have followed these measures. According to Reuters, the only non-Western governments to have enacted sanctions on Russia are Japan, South Korea, the Bahamas and Taiwan – all of which host U.S. military bases or personnel.”

Another good read is Prashad’s repudiation of the western model of charity: Mother Teresa: A Communist View is here.

Below: Mother Teresa (Biography.com), Vijay Prashad (from his site).

What to Listen to… podcasts!

Sitting in last week for Canadaland’s host Jesse Brown was Tristan Capacchione, the podcast’s audio editor and technical producer. Capacchione presented a great program “Sh*tty Cities” about urban issues in Canada.  His guest was a Canadian Jason Slaughter who runs the largest urban planning channel on Youtube called Not Just Bikes.  In his former career in semi-conductor manufacturing, Slaughter travelled to 61 countries which he says “radicalized” him.  After being in scores of cities, as he put it, there are “very few things Canadian cities do well.” So Slaughter (who hails from London, Ont) and his family decided to move to Amsterdam.  Ever hear of “stroads” – according to Slaughter “stroads” are how planners deliberately confuse streets and roads. Streets – not stroads — make a livable and walkable city. On the other hand roads, are merely built for car traffic. Listen to Sh*tty Cities on Canadaland here.

The Nighttime Podcast is broadcast on Sunday nights, but you can listen anytime here. Halifax host Jason Bonaparte invites author Paul Palango, and sometimes Halifax lawyer Adam Rodgers to catch us up on what’s happening in the NS Mass Casualty Inquiry – it’s a fascinating hour, with questions and answers from listeners. Also, at the end of most days of the Mass Casualty Inquiry hearings, Rodgers himself hosts a 20 min. review and analysis about what took place that day. It’s on Youtube here— you can subscribe.

Logo for Nova Scotia’s Nighttime Podcast

Few people I know have bothered to read Palango’s excellent book 22 Murders (see my review here), and fewer still seem interested in exposing the lies and gross misconduct of the RCMP, from the top ranks down– which led to some of the deaths. This criticism is also directed at the media which continue to do their jobs as “stenographers to power” who don’t themselves investigate the Portapique murders, nor do the media trust Palango who does.  

Listen to Zombie

Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favourite novelists. I know she’s American!  Still everything she writes has a touch of magic and at the same time a fresh, straight forward look at serious matters – usually of life and death.  For example for anyone whose daughter or friend is going away to university in the next weeks, I highly recommend Oates’ book:  Black Girl/White Girl published in 2007.  During the Viet Nam War era, two young women share a dorm room at one of the “Seven Sister” colleges on the US east coast.  One girl is a Black scholarship student from the US south, the other is from a well-off white Philadelphia family.  What happens is not what you’d expect – but sinister nonetheless.  Excellent.

As for what to listen to, I highly recommend Oates’ short story Zombie in the New Yorker, read by fellow novelist Akhil Sharma.  It was hearing his engaging reading of Zombie that convinced me to read his book An Obedient Father, see my review in What to Read above. Zombie is the short story you’ll hear here. Don’t listen before bed. Oates later turned Zombie into a novel with the same title.

Strikes for workers’ rights

For a breath of fresh air and a left labour perspective (from the UK), listen to Mick Lynch on Strikes and Britain’s Crisis on the Guardian’s Politics Weekly here.  The interview is with the railway workers’ union (RMT) general secretary Mick Lynch and with Miatta Fahnbulleh, the CEO of the New Economics Foundation. She’s excellent.

The two talk of socialism, where the Labour party is headed (absolutely to the right) and why strikes do matter.  All in less than 30 minutes.

And I suggest you watch this two minute video from the New Economics Foundation.

Below: Vending Machines (Joel Goodman/The Guardian); Betty Pack, inset is Italian lover Alberto Lais (DailyMail.co.uk); Mick Lynch (Jacobin); promotion for podcast on Nuseiba Hasan (cbc.ca).

One of my favourite podcasts Disappearances has an interview with Canadian journalist Habiba Nosheen who hosts a new podcast on a young mother Nuseiba Hasan who disappeared in Hamilton, Ont.  No one in her family – who had forced her out of the house to live on welfare — called the cops to report her missing for more than nine years! Her now grown daughter, who was adopted by another family at age 2, is still looking for her. Listen to The Disappearance of Nuseiba Hasan for 22 minutes here

If you like to use vending machines, you’ll like the Guardian Long Read Podcast, A Day in the Life of (Almost) every Vending Machine in the World here — it’s delightful. Every drink dispensed or Twix bar that drops off the rack is counted and timed, so that vending machine owners know exactly what is selling at what time of day or night. Extraordinary.

MI6’s most innovative spy…

Espionage – you can listen free on Spotify even if you don’t subscribe – and it’s worth listening to. I just heard the two-part series on American turned MI6 spy Betty Pack.  A fascinating story of a woman whose charm and impressive libido saved dozens of men in the Spanish Civil War and World War II.   Amazing story – and funny too! Here it is.

And just today I listened to The Big Story here. Andre Picard, the veteran health reporter at The Globe and Mail was the guest in an interview with host Jordan Heath-Rawlings. Picard gave a very good analysis about the state of elders and end-of-life issues —how backward and horrible these are across Canada. He said in Denmark, nursing homes or old age homes had twenty residents or fewer, not hundreds –like here. In Denmark, there is no warehousing of the old. Their homes are well-staffed, lovely, with gardens and they are deliberately placed close to schools or daycare centres so the older people are involved in some school or community activities and visits. Picard said that 21,000 Canadians who lived in nursing homes died — usually alone, and without support — due to Covid. He also said that though nearly every politician has a mother, or grandmother or relative they love to bits– it doesn’t translate to caring about elders’ care in institutions. Another issue Picard noted is that many of those in nursing homes need not be there. All they needed was meal preparation, or grocery shopping, or an accessible bath or shower — and they could have stayed in their homes. Instead, governments are unwilling to spend the money on quality home care, and social care. Look what has happened with caring for young children– the $10 a day childcare is around the corner because the feds and provinces have made it a top priority. Nothing like that is in place for our elders.

Below is the cover of Picard’s newest book, Neglected No More

Featured image: A view of Rijeka, Croatia (photo credit: Unsplash)

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