Category Archives: Uncategorized

What to Read, What to Watch

Paul Weinberg’s new book When Poverty Mattered (Fernwood 2019) takes us back to the early 1970s mainly in Toronto, and Hamilton.  pauls-bkAnti-poverty groups were very active and the Liberal government of Trudeau (the elder) threw hundreds of thousands of dollars their way – to subvert them, de-fang them and even destroy them.  While the federal government especially Hamilton MP, John Munro, and Senator David Croll was trying to uphold Trudeau’s notion of a “Just Society” by funding anti-poverty groups, the RCMP and the forerunner of CSIS were infiltrating and trying to destabilize.

Weinberg’s book is fascinating.  I had forgotten about the mystery surrounding the break-in and the fire at PRAXIS, a left wing, anti-poverty research group located near the University of Toronto.   In a series of interesting interview “bites” Weinberg paints a picture of the times.  He recalls the mainly women who were “on the ground” activists, single mothers with children.  The first anti-poverty conference took place in Toronto at the Lord Simcoe Hotel (now some concrete skyscraper) and boasted more than 600 activists in attendance.  Their resolutions and resolve were amazing.

Now the distance between the poor and the rich is far wider than it was in the 1970s.  Just the other day the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) came out with their report, Fail-safe.  By 9.08 am on 2 January 2020, Canada’s top CEOs had already earned what the average working Canadian earns in a whole year.  In fact executives earn 227 times the average industrial wage.

Weinberg’s book is especially riveting  in the first two and the last two chapters. I enjoyed the interview with Vancouver city councillor and former anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson who wrote Poor Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion.  also liked his glimpses into what the activists, lawyers, and even politicians are now doing – but frankly their best days are far behind most of them.swanson

family-lawFamily Law is delightful, it’s a DVD I got from the Library.  It’s slow and that is good.  It’s about a father and son who are lawyers in Buenos Aires and their lives.  It’s humorous, and sympathetic — and you see people who are not rushing around making deals and making money.  You learn something about Argentinian Jews, and you learn a bit about yourself — what drives you that shouldn’t.

It is rather the opposite of the series on HBO, Succession.   succession This is the series from hell.  It starts off slowly, but builds into this hate infested family feud of a rich NY family (modelled on Rupert Murdoch’s clan).  The dialogue is smart and quick; the characters are unforgettable, by the arrogance and stupidity of the wealthy stick with you  long after the episodes dissolve.  Worth watching but you have to have a strong stomach. Here’s the trailer.

What to Watch…

We got the HBO package specifically to watch Our Boys, an Israeli policier of sorts.  In June 2014, you may recall that three Jewish teens were murdered by Palestinians.  The teenage boys attended a Yeshiva on the West Bank and were  at a bus or a hitch-hiking stop outside a Jewish settlement.  The young Palestinian culprits were found and given life sentences.  Within a week or two of the Jewish boys’ murders, a 16 year old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted and murdered from a street in East Jerusalem.  This was clearly payback  by two Yeshiva boys and their uncle, Jews who lived in  an illegal settlement.   This fast-paced and well done series shows the investigation and the interrogations of the Jewish suspects, and the police and Shin Bet‘s worst fears that, in fact, it was Jews who did this murder.our

Some of my friends also  in Independent Jewish Voices Canada told me it was a great series.  Of course the acting, the quickness, the dialogue and the production values were a cut above.  However, the series was another reminder that the Israeli media focus on their old addage “We shoot, then we cry.”  This became a well known trope with the release of Waltz with BashirwaltzThe 2009 “cartoon” or graphic film recounted the horrors of the 2000 plus Palestinians who were murdered in cold blood at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon in 1982.  The bloodbath was carried  out by the Phalangists at the behest of the Israeli government, which at the time were occupying part of Beirut.  For a very brief newsreel on Sabra and Shatila watch this.

Our Boys suggests that Israel’s police and secret police always “get their man” and though the culprits were religious Jews — they too were punished for an unspeakable murder. See for yourself.

I also watched a rather unique DVD from Romania,  Tuesday, After Christmas.  tuesThe excellent sex scene comes right at the start and promises more.  Alas  there are no more sex scenes.  There is the subtle and all too familiar drama of a country now aping the US in terms of commercialisation of the Xmas season, and the thin veneers of hospitality and boredom that also goes with the  season.  A middle class couple battles about the husband’s affair yet pretends nothing is amiss in the family celebration.  The script is good, and the acting is excellent.  Got this at the Halifax library, for free.

What to Watch, What to Read!

Lately I’ve watched My Brilliant Friend, on HBO.  This is a wonderful Italian series, which is subtitled in English, with 8 episodes.  I’d first recommend reading the Neapolitan Quartet — four brilliant novels by Elena Ferrante.  She is a mysterious novelist who was born and raised around Naples, Italy.  She uses Ferrante, but it is a pseudonym and despite the tremendous success of the four novels — starting with My Brilliant Friend — no one knows who the author is.ferrante

Of course if you just want to watch the HBO series, that’s OK but leaves quite a bit out. It takes place in a very poor suburb of Naples. Italians live in 4 storey tenements, some without bathtubs and modern kitchens. Families have so many children that the kids end up sleeping on camp cots in the kitchen. The buildings surround a parkette, with not a blade of grass or a tree.  The series begins in the late 1950s when two 8 year old girls — Elena (called Lenu) and Lila — start a friendship that will endure for six decades.

Turns out Lenu and Lela are amateurs –not trained actors.  Their acting, and that of their families and teachers is spell-binding. I won’t spoil this series for you — but you must read/and-or watch it.  More seasons are coming up, and I can’t wait.

Wild, Wild Country is a fantastic roller-coaster of a documentary that is as good as a drama. raj-filmIt details the Rajneeshi movement, which migrated from Pune, India to rural Wasco County, Oregon in the early 1980s.  The cult brought thousands of followers, mostly well off American, British and Australian white people. Among them were doctors, dentists, accountants and lawyers. The Rajneeshis bought more than 64,000 acres near a town called Antelope.

Once there the adherents (all dressed in red) built a whole community with comfortable apartments and homes that looked like ski chalets, swimming pools, shops, a dental and a medical practice, huge halls, kitchens, a farm and more. Their spiritual leader and founder was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, raj-osholater known as Osho. His inner circle contained two women, an Australian housewife who left her family to move to the US with Osho, and Annan Sheela, Osho’s his personal assistant raj2who was really the inspiration and organiser of the movement.

The 43 townsfolk of Antelope hated the Rajneeshis from the start. But pay-back time came when the cult members decided to take over town council, and rename the town Rajneeshpuram. Much intrigue followed. I don’t want to tell you how it ends, but here is a speech by Osho (before he died in 1990)

Just finished Into the Woods, by Tana French.

I didn’t like it quite as much as I did The Witch Elm ( But her books are about young people – falling afoul of adult ways. And that I find beguiling. Into the Woods (another 600 page tome) is about Rob, a 32 year old man who falls into a job with the Dublin police’s murder squad. But Rob has a big secret which you learn early on in the novel which he has to conceal because of his work on a murder investigation. Here and now you’ll never guess what the secret is. The fun of the book is that you know the secret early on but it all falls into place much later in the novel.   This novel will take you far away from where you are in the here and now. For that it’s worth reading it.

In the New Yorker there is a fabulous article called When America Tried To Deport its Radicals by historian and author Adam Hochschild.

In the same year (1919) that the Winnipeg General Strike was turning labour relations in our country upside down – something similar was taking place across the US.

hochschild1From the New Yorker, 4 Nov 2019

In what were called the Palmer Raids (after the US attorney-general under President Woodrow Wilson) thousands of socialists, leftists, activists, and trade unionists were deported from the US. What led up to the deportations? Fear of the Bolsheviks who had just won the revolution in Russia, fear of “Asian” immigrants, fear of trade unionists, who were demanding better working conditions and wages and becoming militant.

One of the US government’s strongmen was J Edgar Hoover (yes the same slimey bastard who became head of the FBI) who personally incarcerated none other than the infamous Emma Goldman. By this time, Goldman had lived in the US for 34 years! On the night she was deported, this exchange took place:

“Haven’t I given you a square deal, Miss Goldman?” Hoover asked, as they steamed toward Brooklyn in the darkness.


Left, Emma Goldman, top right the Buford that deported her. Finally  J Edgar Hoover. 

“Oh, I suppose you’ve given me as square a deal as you could,” she replied, two hours away from being ejected from the country where she had lived for thirty-four years and found the voice that had won her admirers around the world. “We shouldn’t expect from any person something beyond his capacity.”

Don’t miss the pleasure of reading this  article which is here.

You get paid on Xmas Day –but not on Boxing Day in NS!


As I sit in my front window in the  falling light of on Xmas Eve,  I notice the crush of rush hour Metro Transit buses chug up and down Morris Street.

Almost all of the buses are empty or have a handful of passengers.

Why is it that Metro Transit runs a full rush hour service on Xmas Eve?   You would think most people are off work, and the rest would already be home by 5 pm.

Sure, if you’re  a teacher, a professor, a civil servant, a library worker, a construction worker, it’s likely you had the day off, or at least you were off since noon.

But if you work in a restaurant, a bar, a hotel, in retail, at a gas station, as a cleaner – you are probably working till 5 or 6 pm Christmas Eve.  These jobs pay minimum wage, $11.05 per hour, or perhaps a dollar more.xmas

People who work these jobs can’t usually afford a car to drive to work. These are the people who ride the buses at rush hour on Christmas Eve.

The few rights at work these workers have are governed by the pitiful and outdated NS Labour Standards Act.  The Act identifies only 6 days a year as public holidays, including Christmas.  According to the Act, even annual vacation can be limited to  a paltry two weeks a year.

Perhaps another indignity to low paid workers is “Boxing Day.”

In NS, all stores (except for some convenience or drug stores) must be closed on Christmas Day and a day later, on Boxing Day.  Though Boxing Day is a ‘retail closing day’, it is not a public holiday.  That means there is no holiday pay for people who can’t work on that day because their office or shop is closed.  Christmas Day is a paid holiday only if a person has worked 15 of the last 30 days.  In addition, the employee has to have worked their work shift immediately before, and immediately after Christmas Day.  That is another reason why low-paid workers cannot afford to take off on Christmas Eve.   If they do, they will not get paid for Christmas Day.

And no matter what – in Nova Scotia, Boxing Day is a retail closing day but is an unpaid holiday.  Unless you are in a union, which all but guarantees members have Christmas and Boxing Day off as paid holidays, you may get paid for the Christmas holiday but there is no pay for Boxing Day.

Whither the NDP? Part III: the NDP as Enablers


This week we’ve seen one group lobby the NS Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) to take away the well-deserved NS Human Rights Award from Rana Zaman.  On International Human Rights Day (Dec. 10), Zaman received the coveted Individual Human Rights Award because, according to the NSHRC, she is “….an award-winning social activist who volunteers on several boards and works at the grass-roots level with marginalized communities.  She collaborates with individuals, families and communities to address issues such as poverty, systemic poverty, sexism, racism, bullying and other human rights issues.”  The NSHRC goes on to say, “Rana is driven with the desire to see unity and solidarity amongst all communities during a time when divisiveness and negative rhetoric is on the rise.”zaman-2

However the lobby group, the Atlantic Jewish Council (AJC), does not agree. The AJC wrote a nasty Community Update in an effort to revoke Zaman’s award.  In addition, two rabbis in Halifax have penned a vitriolic letter to the Chronicle Herald which also demands the NSHRC rescind the award it gave her barely one week ago.

What precipitated the AJC and the rabbis’ actions?  Both the AJC and the rabbis, ajc their letters to the NS Human Rights Commission and the Herald, referred to the  NDP  dumping Zaman as their candidate for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.  The rabbis  claim she was pushed aside because “comparing  Israel to Nazi Germany was deemed to be racist by the NDP.”  When the NDP ‘discovered’  Zaman’s year-old tweets which condemned Israel for killing hundreds and maiming thousands of “unarmed Palestinian protesters” shot during the Great March of Return in 2018, the NDP dropped Zaman as a federal candidate.

Melissa Bruno, then the national director of the NDP, ndpcalled the tweets “unacceptable” and “anti-semitic.”  Though Zaman’s comparison was a clumsy response to her revulsion against Israel’s shootings at the Gaza border,  her response was not anti-semitic.

The fact that Zaman apologized immediately and publicly for any harm her tweets caused the Atlantic Jewish Council, the wider Jewish community and others, her apology meant nothing to her detractors.  The NDP still unceremoniously booted her out within hours of calling her out on the tweets.  The AJC and the rabbis are using the fact that the NDP revoked her nomination as proof of her being an anti-semite.  What irritates the AJC and the rabbis is the fact that despite being removed by the NDP, Zaman continues to criticize Israel for it’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine.  The AJC wrote in their Community Update that Zaman “regularly makes public statements about Jews and Israel that are anti-semitic.”  Is this true? Is Rana Zaman an anti-semite?

For one considered opinion, have a look at King’s University journalism professor Stephen Kimber’s response to whether or not Zaman is anti-semitic here:

Here’s my opinion:  The NDP is quick to shoot first and ask questions later.  The fact that Rana Zaman dared to flag Israel as “Apartheid Israel” puts her in the company of  former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak,  Jimmy Carter (former US president), Meir Dagan (former head of Israel’s Mossad), Michael Ben-Yair (Israel’s former attorney general) and many other leaders and scholars.  Neither she nor they are anti-semitic.

Zaman’s  rejection of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism does not mean she is anti-semitic.  Many organizations, including Independent Jewish Voices Canada, do not support the IHRA’s definition because it privileges Jews and is a threat to freedom of expression. The IHRA definition does not even attempt to make common cause with racialised groups including Muslims and African-Canadians. In fact 7 out of 11 examples used in the IHRA definition have to do with denying the right to criticize Israel.

The Atlantic Jewish Council writes that the NS Human Rights award “…should be reserved for individuals who consistently defend against racism in all its forms…” The NS Human Rights Commission and its partners made a very good choice to give the award to Rana Zaman—she has met all the criteria.

AJC letter on left (not), and the Rabbis’ letter on right (that’s for sure)

But who really started the campaign to demonize Rana Zaman? It was none other than the NDP.  Zaman, an immigant from Pakistan, a racialised person and a community activist was not good enough for the NDP, though she won the nomination for the federal seat.  The NDP’s slander about her being unacceptable and an anti-semite was picked up by the Jewish establishment.  I think the NDP has a lot of explaining to do.




What to Read; What to Watch


It’s not every day that we read a book about a black cop from north end Halifax.  But that is exactly what we have in Black Cop:  My 36 years in police work, and my career-ending experiences with official racism.  The author is Calvin Lawrence.  He (with co-writer Miles Howe) weaves a devastating and vitriolic narrative about his 8 years with Halifax police – and his nearly thirty years with the RCMP.  BlackCop_FullCover-WITH-FLAPS.inddFor starters, he points out the reason he was hired by the Halifax police in 1969,  was that a year before Rocky Jones and others in the black community had invited the Black Panthers up to Halifax.  For the first time there had been a meeting for blacks only at the north end public library.  For the first time, the cops were scared of the actions and attitude of  the black community.  Halifax police decided to hire Lawrence and a black friend just out of high school.  By the way, Halifax’s first black cop was hired only in 1967 – so we can see just how the deep the racism in the police – let alone in fire, or the transit services – ran.

The segregation in Halifax Lawrence details is gut-wrenching.  Though his father worked on the trains as a porter, most of his friends’ parents worked as cleaners, or were forced to go “cap in hand” (as he writes) to the whites in the wealthy south end of the city;  there the black men had to beg to do odd jobs for a pittance.  As a teen, Lawrence hung around his favourite street corners of the north end with his friends “playing the dozens.”

“The term refers to the days of slavery when substandard slaves would be sold by the dozen, which was considered the deepest of insults. Playing the dozens, in the modern day, meant throwing insults at each other and learning to take it without becoming physical or taking the game too seriously.” (p.29)

The book looks at racism and the denial of rights, fairness and promotions Lawrence and his fellow black cops endured.  This is a must-read book. I for one would love to meet Calvin Lawrence one day; he now lives in Ottawa.

weissHolocaust to Resistance: my journey by Suzanne Berliner Weiss (Fernwood) is an excellent book in all ways.  Weiss was hidden in a French orphanage during World War II.  She did meet her father once, but never saw her mother after becoming a hidden baby.  In the 1940s, she was fostered, but the foster home relationships broke down.  She lived a grim life.  By 1950 she was adopted by well-to-do Jewish couple from New York City, who specially went to Europe to adopt her.  As the only child  – she was given everything but not a lot of love or understanding.  She did not belong — and part of the book deals with her efforts to find any of her birth relatives.  Her teen years were spent in rebellion; she even served a stint in jail.  Somehow she felt the need to help change the world, and by the late 1960s she became a political and a trade union activist.

Her eventual move to  Toronto was serendipitous and allowed her to continue her  left-wing activism and advocacy.   Despite her French background, and her connection to the Holocaust, she disparaged Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.  Indeed Weiss is an energetic member of Independent Jewish Voices- Canada (as am I).  She  turns the worn phrase of “never again” against Israel to counter its murderous record against the Palestinian people in Gaza, and the West Bank, and to fight for their human and civil rights.  Weiss’s book stands out as important contribution to  Holocaust literature  – do buy it and read it.

I’m not so fond of American films usually, but I, Tonya is an exception.  It is the back story of championship figure skater Tonya Harding and the 1994 “incident” with Nancy Kerrigan which ended Harding’s skating career.  This film is brilliantly acted.  It moves quickly; the script is excellent.  tonyaThe difficult and violent life of Harding is laid bare for everyone to see in this 2017 film.  You can borrow it at the Halifax library.  Here is the trailer:

I’m not a fan of Holocaust films.  However, I was intrigued and excited to watch the series The Devil Next Door, produced by Netflix.  This documentary series goes a long way to explain the US arrest and Israeli detention of John Demjanjuk, demjanwho was identified as Ivan the Terrible, an SS prison guard in at least two death camps during World War II.  After the war, he, his wife and young daughter emigrated first to Indiana, then to Cleveland to live a quiet, and unexamined life.  Though Ivan the Terrible was responsible for more than 27,000 deaths, when he was arrested in the US, he was an obedient and hardworking factory worker at a Ford plant in Cleveland, Ohio.

This series has original film footage from the trial in Jerusalem back in the late 1980s; and looks in-depth at what happened both inside Israel, and inside the US.  The question of identity is front and centre, since the horrible crimes had been committed 40 years prior – how reliable were the now elderly witnesses?  the_devil_next_door_limitedseries-publicity_still_-_h_2019_One thing that comes across clearly is the need for the Israeli court to convict.  As persecuted European Jews sought safety in Israel post the Holocaust, the judiciary and the Israeli government had to “believe” the witnesses that Demjanjuck was in fact one and the same as Ivan the Terrible.  There are good interviews with lawyers (on all sides) from the trial; interviews with at least one judge and insights about the high stakes’ game of prosecuting war criminals.   I highly recommend this series.  Trailer is here:

What to do with $20 million in Halifax – hint: don’t build a stadium

What  can we do with $20 million?

HRM Council has voted to give $20 to SSE (Schooner Sports and Entertainment) toward a football stadium.  A stadium is for people (read: men and boys) who wish to pay to watch professional football.  Let’s not pretend a stadium is for something else.

Here are 5 big ideas that HRM could do with $20 million instead of building a stadium:

  1. Breakfast programs in every school for every student who wants to eat

Nourish NS estimates that a school breakfast program costs $1.00 per student.  In consultation with the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (which encompasses 20mill-1the former Halifax-Dartmouth School Board), Nourish NS sets out the menus and the costs for school breakfast programs in Halifax-Dartmouth.  There are 52,000 elementary and secondary students in HRM.  At $1.00 a day, times 174 school days each year, it would cost just over $9 million per year to give all students in HRM a healthy and varied breakfast.

  1. Build 200 Affordable apartments in HRM

US sites indicate that to build one unit in an apartment building costs from $64,000 to $85,000.  The price includes appliances, carpeting, counters, cabinets, light fixtures, windows, wiring, etc.  Given materials and labour tend to cost more in NS, I suggest we take the average which is $75,000 per apartment, and add on another $25,000 to round off the cost to build each apartment $100,000.  $20 million dollars would buy 200 apartments True the cost of land is not included in the estimates, but we know the province and HRM have land to sell.  Just like the province or HRM will probably make a land deal for the stadium, we can hope they will give the land for affordable housing.20-mill-apt

  1. Add more buses and bus routes to Metro Transit

Each new bus costs about $550,000$20 million could pay for 30 new buses.20-mill-bus

  1. Help to pay for heating and electricity

A few years ago, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia  (CCPA-NS) introduced the idea of a Universal Service Program (USP).  The program would cover the baseload electricity and heating needs for households earning under $40,000 per year, if energy costs exceed 6% of the household’s income.  The USP program to assist 25,000 low income households in Halifax-Dartmouth would cost $16 million.20mill-heat

  1. Subsidize high quality affordable child-care

For many years daycare advocates have called for a publicly-run child-care system.  Mount St Vincent University economics professor, James Sawler, says that, for example, every $1 Quebec puts into early childhood education, the province gets back $1.05, and the federal government gets back $0.45 in taxes.  This is because quality, dependable child-care increases women’s ability join the workforce, and increases their incomes.  With better incomes, women then pay more taxes.  Putting $20 million into a public child-care system (like our school system) would be a step toward high quality, affordable care for all families who want it.20-mill-kids