Category Archives: Uncategorized

What to Watch, What to Read

This time it’s The Break, a  Belgian murder mystery in 10 parts on Netflix, so it should keep you going for the next few days — unless you “binge” on it.  It follows on from lastr’s series by the same name.  On the up side we see the lovely Waloonian scenery, the forests, the lakes, and the fabulous stone houses and shops.  All shot in the sparkly sunlight — I mean it– every day is in sunny and warm summer.  On the down side we put up with some rather wooden characters including the Inspector, and his new love interest, a blue-eyed woman shrink. As well on the up side, the filmmakers go to some pains to portray townsfolk from all social classes, from the criminal and impoverished to the high and haughty spirited from the wealthy.  And you can also practise your French —

just leave off the subtitles. belgium1

David Bezmozgis  is a great writer.   He is a Russian Jew who emigrated to Toronto when he was a youngster and is steeped in Russian— and Jewish —  lore of all sorts.  His book, The Betrayers,bez2  was I think his best.  It was political, about an Israeli right wing politician very much fashioned like Avigdor Leiberman or Natan Sharansky.  His new book of short stories, Immigrant City,  is excellent. bez1 I especially liked the title story, and the last two, “A New Gravestone for an Old Grave, and The Russian Riviera.  Bezmozgis comes from Riga, Latvia…

For another portrayal of modern day Russia see the film Leviathan (2014)  (I think it’s also on Netflix).  The film is about  corruption in a small  city, and a family which tries to get by. It takes place in the  the east coast town of Teriberka leviGreat acting, great script.

While I’m on this Russian kick now, perhaps have a look at Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1905) again.

 

Of course when I read the word ‘Potemkin’, I shudder because that is what the city fathers (and I do mean men) have decided to do with the historic Carleton St. in Halifax. They approved  4 massive towers on one city block bordering Carleton, Spring Garden, Robie and College Streets  However the city will make sure some of the houses on Carleton St will be preserved as a sort of Potemkin village.  That  means the facades and the fronts of buildings will serve as a reminder of community.  To learn more about Potemkin and the village he created in Crimea in 1787, see this.  And to see more about rampant and rapacious development in Halifax, see developmentoptionshfx.com

I’m just finishing an excellent short book  Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier. It’s surprisingly thoughtful.  Lanier says he’s a computer geek, not a social scientist yet he examines issues such as our addictions to networks, and why so many famous  tweets end with the word “sad”.  He shows how social media makes politics impossible, and how it poisons your economic dignity.jaronThe book starts off with why we love cat videos, and why we need to be more like cats — rather than want-to-be-loved dogs…

 

Perseid Showers or the Truth about Gaza

While many Nova Scotians were preparing to watch the Perseid meteor showers,

about 25 gathered in a Halifax backyard to hear Michael Lynk,  a law professor at Western University, discuss what’s going on in Gaza, and in Palestine/Israel.

Lynk, who is originally from Halifax, is also the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.

Rather than talking about the intractability of the Israel-Palestine reality, he focused on what has to be done to to guarantee peace and security for the Israelis and the Palestinians.gaza4

He explained that there are 4 possible solutions to the problem:

First there is the two state solution in which the Palestinians have their own state which includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.  But that means the Palestinians have only 22% of the land originally set aside by the UN for them.

Second, there is the solution of one state run by Israel, which is essentially an Apartheid situation for the Palestinians.  This is more or less a fact since Israel controls Palestinians’ land by virtue of permitting more than 500,000 Israeli “settlers” to live in segregated Jewish-only towns on the land stolen from the  Palestinians.

Third, there is one democratic state for 13.5 million Palestinians and Israeli Jews in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

And fourth, there is the continuation of what is happening now.  Effectively, Israel has annexed much of East Jerusalem and large parts of the West Bank. By building and extending settlements for more than half a million settlers, Israel is establishing “facts on the ground” making it impossible for Palestinians to regain their land.  Also Israel’s military illegally occupies East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and prevents Palestinians from getting to their land, from travel and even from going to work thru a labyrinth of hundreds of checkpoints.

Lynk explained how there was no happy news to report about Gaza.

“Tel Aviv is only 75 km from Gaza.  Yet Gazans live up to 12 hours a day without power.  Sewage gets pumped into the Mediterranean.  In Gaza, of 516 essential medications, there is  only a one month supply left for over 40% of them.  Cancer or heart patients apply for exit visas to get treatment; Israel used to grant 75-80% of the requests.  In 2018, Israel granted only 54% of the requests.”

Since 2008, Israeli military attacks on Gaza have killed more than 4,000 people — mainly civilians — and injured tens of thousands.  For example, in 2014 during the 51 days of “Operation Protective Edge”, Israeli air attacks killed more than 2300 civilians, including children, and injured more than 10,000.

Gaza’s infrastructure is crumbling due to Israeli bombings and the 12 year blockade by Israel.  According to a UN report, by 2020 Gaza will be unlivable, as 98% of all available water will be undrinkable.  Also there will be no treatment for water or sewage.

Lynk himself, like several of his predecessors, is not even allowed by the Israelis to enter Israel, or Palestine.  To find out what is happening, he said, “I go to Amman, Jordan in June or July every year to meet with Israelis and with Palestinians.”

Civil society organizations involved with human rights provide some hope.  These include GISHA, B’tselem, Diakonia (a Swedish organization) and Al Haq. But the Israeli authorities are making it more and more difficult for them to do their job.

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After Lynk spoke, there was a Q and A period in which the varied audience, which included Jews, non Jews, Palestinians, and members of the United Church, participated.

 

What to Read, and What to Watch…

north

Degree of Guilt is a great (if long) novel — a court room drama with a lot of flair. Though it’s nearly 30 yrs old now, the novel examines the lives and troubles of three professional women — forerunners of today’s me-too movement.  Though the book is written by a man, he is somewhat skilful in showing the snags and traps that wait for women in law, in the media and even in the literary world.      The most famous novelist in the US is shot to death – and a woman TV presenter owns up to having done it.  But why – and how would a successful media star do this. Some characters are more wooden than finely drawn, but all in all, I kept reading to the end.   I picked it up in the pile of left behind paperbacks teetering on a chair in the covered picnic area at Rainbow Haven Beach.

 

If you like short novellas  you couldn’t do better than this collection by British novelist Daphne du Maurier.  Don’t Look Now was also made into a film starring  Julie Christie in the 80s.  It’ s a fantastic read.   And shows all the troubling  spots of class and race of the 20th, and probably 21stcentury white English  middle class.  A couple in their early 40s go to Venice to try to get away from a family tragedy back home. But who they find and what happens to them is masterfully set out.  The book is reminiscent of another must read– Ian McEwan’s early short novel The Comfort of Strangers.  Somehow I prefer McEwan’s book if only because the villains in it, who live in Venice, are Canadian.   Both books are menacing, but oddly believable.

 

On Netflix you can watch The Guilty.  You won’t take your eyes off the screen.  The Danish film is about a cop who doesn’t like being on the 911 desk, answering distress calls.  But one night a call comes in — and he thinks he knows what to do .  But he doesn’t. And that’s the story.  Brilliantly done, takes your breath away.  Everything takes place in the cubicle where the cop answers the phone.  Worth watching. guilty

A delightful set of six vignettes from Argentina is also on Netflix. It’s called Wild Tales.  The stories are all brilliantly acted and tragic/comedic.  Underneath them is the complaint that the middle class of Argentina is no longer getting what they deserve, and they are being cheated of the “good life”.  I especially liked the last one about the Jewish wedding.  Hilarious. wild-tales

If you has read anything about the US government murders of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953, this film is for you.  Made by their granddaughter, Ivy, the 2003 film  2003 explains a lot about the Rosenbergs, the times, and their two sons, now in their sixties,  who were raised in the shadow of electrocutions of their parents for being spies.  It will shake you up, and leave you with more questions than have not been properly answered. heirYou can purchase the right to play the DVD for $3.99 Can. And look here for a trailer.  

Finally I watched The Post, an American film now on DVD (from the library).  It takes place  in 1971 near the height of the Viet Nam War in Washington, and introduces us to the rivalry in the newsrooms between the Washington Post and the New York Times. postIn a way, it does what the American movies do best — everything is optimistic, then tragedy hits, and then somehow freedom of the press wins out.  An American success story.  It moves fast and details a coverup of 30 yrs of US government and its presidents’  about atrocities in Viet Nam.     Meryl Streep is great as the Washington Post publisher/owner Katharine  Graham.  You do see the actual type being set on a linotype machine circa the 70s before Offset printing.  Most of the “live” characters are men, which might have been true for the times, but drag down the film — in my view.

Two white “good boys”that no one likes to call terrorists

Today we learned that the bodies of the two fugitives suspected of 3 murders were found on the banks of the Nelson River in northern Manitoba.

For three weeks the RCMP had been trying to track Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, from Port Alberni.  The cops allege the teens shot a young tourist couple and a university botanist. The murders of the couple and the single man took place hundreds of kilometers apart.

At the outset, it was feared that the “boys”, who went missing, had also been victims of a gunman – -like the tourists and the botanist.  But suddenly everything changed when the RCMP labeled Schmegelsky and McLeod suspects.  They were and armed and dangerous.murder-suspects-crop.jpg;w=630

Two weeks ago, a young girl in Gillam, Manitoba (population 1200) said she saw the suspects in town. Gillam is one of the furthest north towns in the province– 1070 km from Winnipeg.  Last weekend, police divers searched the cold and fast running Nelson River near Gillam after discovering a wrecked aluminum canoe.

Police told residents of Gillam, and York Landing (a town 4 hours’ drive away) to keep their doors locked and their children in the house.  About half the residents of Gillam are members of Fox Lake Cree Nation; York Landing is a First Nation reserve.   So Indigenous people were warned that there was a serious risk from two white men who could be killers.gillam3

Now RCMP had all but given up their search.  At first they claimed that the rough and marshy terrain, the swarms of insects and the lack of roads and shelter would force the suspects to surrender. The police brought in search equipment, infra-red locators, and army issued gear to help them search.  But the leads went nowhere. After nearly three weeks, the RCMP retreated.

In what alternate universe would the police have merely waited for murder suspects’ dead bodies to show up? If there were three murders in a city or any sizable town, the police would not have stopped their search.  But because the culprits were seen in two tiny towns 1000 plus km from any city, the cops just waited.  The danger was to Indigenous people, not to whites.  And there was the element that these “young” men were not so dangerous – no hard evidence of drugs or violence.  The media, their families and everyone who knew them thought they were basically “good boys”.

Who are these two “good boys”? They were young men—not overgrown boys.  Somehow they got infantalized by the media, and by their own families and neighbours.  For example, Alan Schmegelsky (Bryer’s dad) said many times that these were “good boys” who had worked hard at Walmart for 5 weeks to earn money to travel. However Bryer, who had just graduated from Grade 12, posted pictures of himself in army fatigues festooned with Nazi armbands, and decals on his guns.  He was obsessed with World War II, and Nazi memorabilia.

After working for a mere 5 weeks, Bryer Schmegelsky’s major purchase was a black suit.  Alan, his father, insisted Bryer bought it for his own funeral because his “good” son was planning to get killed in a shoot out with the police and die in a “blaze of glory.”  The dad, a catch in his throat, told the media that his son was “in some very serious pain.”  Kam McLeod’s dad said his son was “kind, considerate and caring.” The media didn’t come down hard on them.  There had to have been a logical explanation for the murders – how could it be young men who kept to themselves and never caused trouble– could randomly kill 3 people?

Maclean’s magazine’s journalist Andray Domise recently wrote about the presumed  innocence of white young people, compared to the assumed culpability of black youth, “white youth who commit atrocities in the name of white nationalism are not only draped in the innocence of childhood from birth, but are covered by its long tails into adulthoodpresumption of guilt.” Too often white youth are considered innocent until proven bad, while black youth are deemed no good from the get-go.

Imagine if the suspects were Muslim, or Black. It’s very doubtful the cops would have given up and sat back and waited.  It may be that the cops thought the suspects were already be dead – but the Indigenous folk of northern Manitoba still had to keep doors locked and kids inside in the stifling mid-summer heat –until when? Until today.cartes-map_YF_e

So what we had was a terrorized Indigenous population—threatened by two white men who no one had the nerve to call terrorists.  Because they were white, and “good boys” the police gave up active pursuit. But  the people of Gillam and York Landing  just had to worry and wait.

The Mounties always get their men, until they don’t.T

48 hours in PEI

A little vacation in PEI, with the great beaches and better weather.  Charlottetown is a lovely jewel of a city with lots of angle parking.  The parking allows businesses, families and even the public library to “adopt a corner” and plant beautiful flower gardens on most downtown corners. PEI-pocketStreets are delightful with red brick buildings, and row housings sometimes of wood but mostly of red brick. Halifax could learn a lot about preservation, restoration and even tourism from Charlottetown.  The garbage receptacles in the city are quite nice, made of wood, and open with little awnings.  Better than the grey three siloed steel drums we have in Halifax.

Larry and I were staying at a “boutique” hotel downtown in Charlottetown and there was a great tree a “smoke tree” with pink fluffy cloud-like leaves.  As we drove through the PEI to Stanley Bridge, Cavendish and Kensington, on every small hill it seemed there was a fantastic white wooden church with an elegant steeple in the midst of the rolling farmland.  “Raise a little shell” is the slogan for lobster subs at Subway…

Here we are at Argyle Beach, red water, red cliffs, not far from Charlottetown.  The city has a two metre tall metal crane by the waterfront.  And there are many Sushi restaurants with an overwhelming selection of Sushi. Probably because some of Japanese visitors to the Anne of Green Gables House decide to stay… The menu in the window of this restaurant is immense,

And of course to place this all historically you want to look at these two paintings:

PEI-fathers

The Fathers of Confederation (1864) vs the excellent Kent Monkman version The Daddies (2016),  and you can learn and see more in an article in The Walrus herePEI-The-Daddies-740x396

We made two important cultural finds:

First: in Beanz cafe beanz-expresso-bar-cafe_origLarry heard Electroswing Republichear it for yourself. They’re from Denmark.

And I discovered where Clairol and L’Oreal dump all their  blonde shades of hair dye — PEI.  Every woman sports straggly long hair and a bottled blonde look. It’s a thing here.

What to Watch and What to Read…

Just watched Cloud 9, but the real title is 7e Ciel.  This is a slow but very touching German film about love, and lust in older age. The acting is superb.  And the story line is unique.  The lead actor is a seamstress who, at the outset, seems satisfied with her life in a small apartment with her husband;  she sings  in a choir, and joyfully cares for her granddaughters.    But something happens and her life changes –in many ways for the better. cloud9Her confrontations with her husband of 30 years, and with her adult daughter are well done.  What we don’t see in Hollywood films is the genuine fear grownups have of hurting one another when a relationship goes south.  Instead on screen we see  the shouting, the accusations and the roaring of a marriage breaking apart.  In Cloud 9  we see something so human– so welcome and so thoughtful that — while we are prepared for a fight scene — what we get is something far more intolerable. I got this dvd at the library.

I must have read a reference to this new young novelist’s book My Sister the Serial Killer.  Written by Nigerian  serialOyinkan Braithwaite, the book takes place in today’s Lagos.  There is some dark humour — but when that is swept aside, the reader is led through a story of the upper middle class lives of a careless (or carefree) daughter and a dutiful one.  The latter is pressed into helping  the former.  But the careless daughter  has a bad habit of killing her boyfriends.  It’s a short book, I read it as an e-book from the library. But there are sparks of familiarity with the relationship between the sisters — and their caustic relations with the father.  “Libby,” the free e-reader program at the library, tells me the book took me 3 hours and 57 minutes to complete.  The book is entertaining, but not too deep.

What to Read, What to Watch

Former MP Libby Davies’s autobiography Outside In (Between the Lines 2019) is excellent.  Davies is the nearly 20 year veteran NDP MP for Vancouver’s downtown east side.  Before becoming an MP, she cut her teeth on civic politics — and was elected 5 times as a municipal councillor in Vancouver.  She and her late partner, Bruce Eriksen who was also a city councillor, waged many campaigns for improving rooming houses for the poor on Vancouver’s east side, to safe injection sites, to treatment facilities and  much more.  Davies’ position on Palestinian human rights and her push for the NDP to embrace what was right — not just what was expedient — was telling.  She also evaluates people such as Jack Layton, Olivia Chow and even her interactions with prime ministers including Paul Martin and Stephen Harper — as well as other “big men” on Parliament Hill. Outside In is a book which makes you sit up and understand what’s right, but mostly what’s wrong with parlimentary politics.  Davies is a force of nature — a person  who has committed her life to social justice and to an  ongoing battle against the rich and powerful. outside-inShe writes convincingly and accurately about personal issues and political ones.  The book is a breath of fresh air.

For a great romp, you want to watch What to Do in Case of Fire — a German film from 2002.  Six anarchists who were serious East Berlin activists at the time of the tearing down of the wall — are thrown together once again, years later.  The relationships among the six are sharply drawn and clever.  Through a series of incidents, one more dangerous and provocative than the next — the anarchists go on a mission to show that though line between Left and Right might be blurring, there are some people still willing to fight the neoliberal regime.   I got the DVD at the library– worth watching.

what to do