What to Read, What to Watch and What to Listen to in February 2023

I just read The Freedom Convoy: the Inside Story of Three Weeks that Shook the World published in June 2022.  The book was written by right-wing blogger, vlogger and podcaster Andrew Lawton.  Well first off, he can write.  He tells a rather exciting story but he leaves out a lot.  He tries to say that the major organisers of the Convoy simply wanted to boost Canadians’ “freedoms”.  He leaves out explanations for the variety of flags convoy participants flew over Ottawa.  The flags and banners included the Nazi swastika, the Fuck Trudeau baner, the American flag, the Confederate flag and the Trump 2024 flag.  According to the online Jurist magazine, many of the rig drivers were pro-police and hoisted the Blue Lives Matter flag.  Does that mean the truckers were pro-fascist?

Below: from left, Blue Lives Matter flag; counter demonstration in Ottawa Jan. 2022 (CTVNews); Lawton’s book cover.

Having read parts of the official Rouleau Report here, and various critiques of it – especially one by Canadian journalist Justin Ling on Substack here, I noticed more was missing.  For instance there is no reference to who was really behind the Convoy, by that I mean what were their politics, what had they done before, and who or what were they protesting exactly.  How was the protest organized and engineered in mere days?  This is answered in part not by Rouleau’s Report but by Andrew Lawton’s book.  It’s a chilling read.

The most interesting part of The Freedom Convoy book was the short chapter on finances.  Where did they get the money and how?  To say they raised $10 million in a couple of weeks is probably an understatement.  When Go-Fund-Me got scared and refused to process the donations, the Convoy leaders went to GiveSendGo a Christian fundamentalist platform in the US. It pledged to never accede to any government order – just to an order from God.  The fact that the Canadian feds froze the convoy organizers’ bank accounts is also a rather frightening warning to us all.  It can happen to the left, to trade unionists, to anyone who is seeking to change the system. Though Convoy organisers claimed the money was for gas, diesel and food, where did all the money go? 

Progressive activists in Ottawa, Leilani Farha, Monia Mazigh, Alex Neve and Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah were part of the Ottawa People’s Commission on the Convoy Occupation which independently looked into events during the Convoy – events which terrified Ottawa citizens in many ways.  Roving bands of truckers marched through downtown Ottawa streets threatening (even pushing) older people who wore facemasks, getting into harassing arguments with people whose first language wasn’t English, scaring the police away from the core of the city – and making it next to impossible for many politicians (including MPs) to enter or exit from Parliament. The truckers who stayed in their trucks blew their hi-decibel horns for hours and hours on end.  Advance parties travelled by cars to the city outskirts to fill jerry cans with fuel to keep the trucks running 24/7 in the -25C weather.  The convoy operation was not ham-fisted; it was planned.  We found out that quite a few ex-cops or Canadian ex-military personnel participated. Certainly, some Ottawa cops gave them wide berth.

These three readings complement one another.  We get more than an inkling of how fascism could take hold in this country through Lawton’s book.  In Rouleau’s report, we get the accounts of the police and the politicians, what they did right and wrong – though solely in response to events as they escalated in Ottawa. There was nothing proactive done and nothing in Rouleau’s report that took note of the politics of the situation, or compared it to January 6 revolt in the US.   In the People’s Commission you can learn a lot about what happened on the ground and how tone-deaf our elected officials were to the justified complaints and fears of the citizenry at the time.

The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez is a brilliant novel.  In the 1990s, Dr Gabriel Santoro is a professor of rhetoric at a university in Bogotá, Colombia. His son, and namesake, just published a book about a Jewish-German neighbour, a good friend, who suffered during the internment of German Colombians during World War II.  Santoro the elder commented, that his son’s book was both very good and very original: but “what’s good is not original and what’s original is not good,” insisted Dr Santoro. Santoro, the writer, continued to live in the shadow of his father until events caught up with them both.  As Santoro, the son, tried to tease out the politics and activities  of his father during the 1940s, the younger Santoro comes face to face with events which condemn his “upstanding” father.  The events lead to the death of one internee and a son’s revenge.  Santoro the younger also trips over secrets of a pro-fascist Colombian government which later becomes a willing asset of the US.   Startling and wonderful.  I didn’t put it down.

A Jordanian film about a teenager’s experiences during the Nakba, in which 700,000 Palestinians were displaced in 1948 by Israeli Zionists, has come under scrutiny according to Middle East Eye journalist Nadda Osma.  The film Farha can be seen on Netflix, but the crux is that Israeli soldiers committed atrocities against Palestinian locals.  The excellent article which examines the situation is here. Watch the trailer for Farha here.

What to Watch…

I highly recommend a 2022 Argentinian film, The Substitute.  It’s on Netflix.  Lucio, a 35-year-old academic is passed over for a university position, and ends up taking his dad’s job as a high school teacher.  His dad, a popular teacher dubbed The Chileano, is on sick leave, so the son is the substitute and ends up teaching literature to difficult 16-year-olds in a rough school in the very poor outskirts of Buenos Aires.  Everyone in the film is believable– from the overworked and elderly woman principal, to the school inspector, to the drug lords who really govern what happens in the school and the community.  Interwoven is Lucio’s story of his very deep and dependent relationship with his dad, and Lucio’s  troubled connections with his ex-wife and their 12-year-old daughter.   Also there is the best sex scene I’ve seen in any film lately.  Watch this masterpiece. Here’s the trailer.

I watched the Netflix documentary Madoff: the Monster of Wall Street. This excellent four-part doc dramatizes events leading to Madoff’s arrest, but also includes interviews with ex-employees and friends about what the man was all about.  Like most documentaries on Netflix, it’s a cut above. Here’s the trailer

Tár is on Prime and you can rent it for $6.99.  I warn you it’s long, but spellbinding.  Concert conductor Lydia Tár, played by Cate Blanchett, is the Maestro at the Berlin Philharmonic, arguably the top orchestra in the world.  She skates through her world, veering away from the dangers of being tagged as a feminist, or being called out as a Lesbian. But, as always, men (some rich and others merely powerful) try to bring her down a peg or two.  She also schemes to re-make the orchestra in her own image. Some have criticized the film because it portrays her, her wife (the orchestra’s principal violinist) and their daughter as rather dysfunctional. Some criticized the fact that she is a monster as she preys on young  female musicians.  But you won’t easily forget Blanchett and the film.  Stunning–here’s the trailer.

Little Children

More than 18 years ago, the same gifted director Todd Field made Little Children.  Again it’s about two hours long and the first half of it is amazing.  A young housewife in a commuter town in the US is dissatisfied with her life. Her husband, a financier, spends little time and less energy with her or their four-year-old daughter.  The woman gets to know a charming neighbour, whose wife works in the city, leaving him with a five-year-old boy to entertain all day. It’s the summer, and both adults spend a lot of time together with their kids at the local community pool.  The    éminence gris is a 50 year old man, living nearby, who has just been let out of jail after serving time for child molesting; he must stay away from kids, and places like the pool where children play.   The first half of the film is riveting.  The second half is a little more predictable.  But it’s worth a watch on Prime and here’s the trailer. 

Below: clockwise, still from The Substitute; France; Merci pour le chocolat, Madoff, and from Little Children

Hospitalité is an excellent 2010 film from Japan. However, it is more than two hours long, it’s a comedy and a comedy of errors.  A 40-plus year-old man  (Kobayashi) operates a print shop in his front room in a crowded city suburb.  His 20-something girlfriend does the bookkeeping and cares for his four-year-old daughter.  Things change when the print shop’s one employee goes off sick and a total stranger stops by to ask for a job.  Kobayashi temporarily takes him on, trains him and even offers him a room to live in upstairs, where Kobayashi and his family live.  The newcomer’s American girlfriend moves in which sets the printer’s little family back a bit.  Slowly but surely the stranger asserts himself and tries to take over the printshop.

This is an excellent film and well worth watching on Kanopy – free with your library card. Here’s the trailer.

Then there is a rather good French film, Nightcap: Merci pour le chocolat (2010). It’s a psychological thriller on Kanopy.  A concert pianist and his very glamorous second wife have a beautiful home with two baby grand pianos in a picturesque rural town near Paris.  The pianist becomes interested in a neighbour – an 18-year-old woman who has impressed him with her piano playing and asked for private lessons. His wife is both apprehensive and hurt.  What follows is a bit of a who-dunit when the wife gaslights the husband.  And tragedy ensues.  The trailer is here.

Also the film France (2021) is very good.  France is France de Meurs, a woman news anchor, adventure journalist and a major media celebrity in France.  Everyone knows her and wants a piece of her. She seems vacuous and self-consumed in every way.  But when one fan wants to get close to her, the plot thickens.  Her husband and son start moving away from her sphere as her interest in the new man takes priority.  A bit of a comedy, a bit of a tragedy – but very French and somehow – at times — believable.  It’s on Prime, here is the trailer.

What to Listen to…

Journalist Katie Halper, who is a Jew,  speaks about how she was fired last fall from The Hill in Washington DC for criticizing Israel.  She explains about why she is against Israeli Apartheid in this half hour interview on The Real News Network.  Listen or watch.

Trust an American podcaster to feature a 2003 mysterious death, likely a murder, at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ont. was released on the podcast Cold Cases nearly more than 20 years after the military cadet was found dead in the Cataraqui River.  A good student, and an athlete, Joe Grozelle spent most evenings with his girlfriend who was another cadet.  One night when they were both working on papers in his dorm room, she fell asleep around 1 am.  Waking up around 6, she noticed his keys, his wallet, his coat and his ID were on the bureau but Joe was nowhere to be found.  She checked everywhere and checked with friends, and even his basketball coach.  Joe never missed a practice – never —but that November afternoon he did.  After three weeks his body was found half-clothed, no shoes, in the river.  An autopsy revealed there was no water in his lungs:  he did not die by drowning.  The Canadian military closed ranks and shut the parents and the girlfriend out. Someone shut down the first inquest, for ‘security’ reasons. This is worth listening to – since there have been more unexplained deaths among cadets at that college. Listen here.

Book cover for Corey Mintz’ book

Tip Creep

Welcome to the era of ‘tip creep'” is worth listening to on The Big Story here .  Host Jordan Heath-Rawlings interviews chef, author and food service critic Corey Mintz of Winnipeg.  They discuss the fact that restaurants have increased preferred tip percentages displayed on their debit/credit card machines to start at 20%, sometimes 30%.  Mintz insists this is a move by restaurant owners/managers to shovel the wage bill for their employees’ wholly onto their customers. In provinces such as Ontario, restaurants and bars are permitted to pay staff less than minimum wage, assuming (often wrongly) their low pay will be fattened up with tips. Often tips from the customers go into the pockets of owners and managers — not staff. There is no law (except in Québec and in Newfoundland/Labrador) . that says tips are the exclusive property of the server(s).  In every other province or territory, if the customer punches in a tip, it is indeed questionable how much of it the server will actually get. 

Photo of the Knesset (gov.il), and photo of earthquake survivors in Syria (Al Jazeera)

Noticed…transcript of part of question period in Israel’s Knesset (parliament) recently…

Video of Jewish Israeli MPs interrupting and insulting a Muslim Palestinian Arab MP, and spewing hatred against innocent victims of the earthquake in Syria and Turkey

Arab MP: I want to say a word about the earthquake catastrophe in Turkey and Syria.

Arab MP: At the start I cannot but send my deepest condolences to our people in Syria and Turkey [interrupted] for the calamity that happened there, asking God to bless the souls of the dead and a recovery for the injured [interrupted].

Arab MP: It is worth mentioning that we in the Islamic Movement have set up an emergency room [interrupted].

She was rudely interrupted several times by Jewish MPs who said:

o   we don’t care for the Arabs and their tragedy

o   go to Syria and Turkey and say this rubbish

o   get out of here; order her to shut up and leave

Knesset Speaker:  I am the president and I gave her permission to speak, so please stay calm. He then asked the Arab MP to speak in generality and not mention the people of Syria and Turkey.

Arab MP: What is the problem Mr. Speaker with speaking about innocent victims?

Knesset speaker: they may be innocent to you but not to us

Arab MP: Then stop talking about humanity from today onwards [interrupted]. What kind of hatred is that? What is this barbarism and lack of humanity? [interrupted] I will send my condolences to the innocents in spite of you.

Arab MP: We in Islamic Movement have set up an emergency room to assist our brethren in Turkey and in north Syria

Featured Image at the top: My Daughter’s First Steps by Napatchie Pootoogook, 1990. Dorset Fine Arts.

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