Upside Down

I watched a delightful little film this weekend, titled, Upside Down. I don’t know how wide a distribution this movie got in theatres a year or two ago, but I had only very vague memories of the reviews it got around the time of its release. So it is likely if you are reading this review, that you may never have heard of this flick. Go on a search! It is very worth your while!

Another thing which I had not known about this movie is that it is Canadian. It comes from Montreal. The director, in Special Effects commentary speaks in French, explain how this movie came to be made. And it sounds as if it was filmed almost entirely in Montreal.

The story is a very basic love story: boy from the “wrong side of the tracks” meets classy girl; they fall in love but seem destined to never be together. Everything, and everyone, are out to prevent their ever getting together. This part of the story is told gently, with a lovely air about it.

The setting is very unusual: science fiction. Sci-fi was the reason I was interested in the movie; but as it turns out, the sci-fi dimensions become secondary to the story. It is just the world they live in.

This world they live in is explained in voice-over at the beginning. There are two worlds in proximity to each other. Each has its own gravity. Whatever world you originate on, that is the world whose gravity you experience, and the other world appears “upside down”. As you can guess, the two lovers come from opposite worlds, providing numerous obstacles which must be overcome. There is quite a mystical, magical component to this, but the unimaginable improbabilities do not seem to detract from the story. They add to it, if anything. Upside Down is a modern, magical fairy tale, told with a gentle touch.

Another aspect of the movie which is there, if a bit understated, is the class/power divide on this world (or these worlds!). The two worlds evolved separately, one becoming very wealthy and successful, the other not so much. The wealthy world exploits the lower one. There is some working together, but always with the power gap very obviously in place. No one from “below” is allowed to succeed beyond certain limits. This power differential pervades every aspect of the story.

In this way the movie is a very powerful commentary on our world today. There are power-elites who control all the financial and political power structures. And don’t you dare challenge them!! And of course, the love of Adam and Eden (very interesting choices of names!) challenges them in numerous ways. Their simple idealism is a light shining out in dark hopelessness. And (spoiler alert!), as it is a fairy tale after all, love carries the day! I don’t think it will really spoil anyone’s enjoyment of this delightful tale to know that! I really do encourage anyone wanting to see an uplifting story, or anyone interested in seeing how a very fanciful, imaginative world works, check this movie out. You will not regret it!!! It is very well made. The few inconsistencies necessarily arising out of such a uniquely creative world do not detract from the story.

This movie will certainly make you think. I expect this story to be with me for a long time!

 

Anne Rice

With a many-years gap since reading other of this author’s vampire stories, I just finished Anne Rice’s latest Vampire Chronicles novel, Prince Lestat. What a great story; what an entertaining read; what a well-woven chronicle! This novel is great on several levels.

One, it is a very entertaining story. Because of the intervening years, I did not remember much about the previous few Vampire Chronicles I had read. But that did not matter. With Anne Rice’s gifted writing, I was able to pick up many threads from earlier stories. Plus, Prince Lestat stands on its own very well. It would be a good read for anyone, even if you have not read any of her previous vampire books (or seen the movie!). I had picked this book up to read as pure entertainment.

Two, I found this book to be much more than entertainment. It had a lot of deep stuff in it! The primary message of this novel is the encouragement to accept our path in life, and walk it. The vampire Lestat, of the title, was the main one struggling with his destiny. And Anne Rice brings us along gently and slowly as Lestat wrestles with who he is, and what his role is amongst his vampiric family. He does not want to accept his place as a leader among them. Vampires tend to be solitary creatures, and he does not want to give this up. But Anne Rice develops this theme so eloquently, that by the end the reader is cheering Lestat on, as he very gradually owns up to his giftedness. Included along the way are the stories of numerous others who also, in their own way, are wrestling with who they are, and what role they live in their world.

Three, even one destined as clearly as Lestat has deficiencies. He constantly doubts himself, questioning his actions, second-guessing. He does not always handle situations very well, blowing up in anger over others’ behaviour. He comes upon new situations he has never before encountered, new creatures, and is very unsure about these and how to proceed. He comes close to giving up numerous times.

Four, Anne Rice, in placing this novel in the world of fictitious vampires, helps us to see ourselves in the context of beings very completely different than we are. Even though completely strange, these beings still have the same emotions, the same struggles, etc. It is a profound story at this level.

This novel should be read by everyone!! It is so encouraging and positive. The fact that the characters are vampires should not deter anyone from picking this novel up. Give it a try; you won’t regret it!

Writing in the Sand

This book by Thomas Moore is an incredible read, especially for those of us who come from Christian/Church traditions. It focuses on the New Testament gospel accounts of Jesus’ teachings and his actions. I want to expand on this in the future, but for now, just let me say that this is a book well worth much effort to track down and read. It will open your eyes to new understandings of the person of Jesus and his sayings.

More later!!!

Kate Mosse

This may seem like a post a bit out of sync with many of my musings. But this author, Kate Mosse, has written three novels about the Languedoc region of southern France, titled, Labyrinth, Sepulchre, and Citadel. Each of the three stands alone as a stunning story. But there is a certain thread which somehow weaves its way through all three. 

The first obvious thread is that each novel deals with hidden artifacts. There is a search for these, by both those who seek to know the truth in an enlightened way, and by those who would use ancient esoteric knowledge for evil. This gives each novel a terrific element of suspense. Kate Mosse is a very gifted writer and her stories are difficult to put down. Each one is a page-turner in its own right.

Another commonality is that in each novel Mosse uses the literary device of twin stories, each happening at a different point in history, but which are intertwined. Obviously, in light of the hidden-artifact thread, the early-time story deals with the creation of the hidden artifact, which becomes the object of search later in history.

Another common thread is one mysterious character who appears in every book, and whose presence is key to each story. This I found to be a clever device, adding much intrigue to the books.

Also, the Church and religion play important parts in all these stories. There are ancient mysteries, mysticism, both modern and ancient, organized religion trying to control the dissemination of knowledge, etc. (Maybe this is the hook connecting this review with much of my other writings.)

I cannot write this review without referring to another author who deals with the same landscape, and with some of the same themes. That author is Kathleen McGowan. Especially her first two novels of a trilogy, The Expected One, and The Book of Love, deal with the Languedoc, the Cathars, esoteric ancient knowledge. McGowan also uses the device of old stories being discovered by modern protagonists.

Both Mosse and McGowan are gifted writers. Their stories are difficult to put down, and I as a reader found it hard to wait for the next book to come into my hands. Both authors have obviously done a great deal of historical research, and I found their books to be completely absorbing ways to learn more about historical events I knew little of.

I would say I think Kathleen McGowan’s writings are a bit more historical than Mosse’s. I say this because of hearing an interview with McGowan where she relates that her writing began by researching the lives of women who have not been dealt with accurately by historians. She wanted to put the record straight, and tell more of their story than has been known before. While initially aiming to publish these as historical works, a friend encouraged her to write them into novels, thereby achieving a wider audience. I think this was magnificently accomplished!

Another aspect of McGowan’s books, especially the first novel, The Expected One, is that she revealed in her interview that the images which the modern day protagonist sees from the first century, are pretty much word for word descriptions of images and messages she herself has experienced. This gives her story an immediacy, a sense of really happening, scenes from history actually having occurred.

Kate Mosse’s stories, on the other hand, are purely fictional accounts of events set in historical events. For example, the third book, Citadel, is set in the context of the French resistance movement of World War II. It especially shows the role women played in this resistance against the Nazi occupation of France, specifically the southern area of France. Mosse’s stories are just awesomely good reads: very entertaining, somewhat enlightening, but made-up stories nonetheless. McGowan’s stories are almost real; I as the reader really, really wanted them to be true accounts. And I ended up believing that things happened pretty much as she puts forth (creative licence notwithstanding).

So, my reader, if you want a good, enthralling read, choose any one of these author’s books!! You will not be disappointed, and they will cause you to think.

American Graffiti

I watched this movie last weekend. It showed what was in my opinion a very idealized look at the youth culture of the ’60’s. Set in 1962, it was still an age of innocence: before the JFK assassination, before the Viet Nam war, before the British invasion, before all the race riots, before Woodstock, before Easy Rider, etc.

In other words, it is set just before my generation. I would’ve been in Grade Nine when this movie was set.

But it was an enjoyable watch none-the-less. It showed hot cars, had actors in it dressed like we did in the sixties, at least the early sixties. It brought back many memories of an earlier time. Today this seems like another life time ago. Of course, it was set in California, which I imagine was vastly different than Lincoln, Nebraska, where I grew up. Not many kids had hot cars like shown in the movie. There were some, but they were not prolific. Most of us drove rather prosaic, ordinary cars, at least in my circles.

But I enjoyed the movie, despite all my criticisms. Filmed in 1973, it was George Lucas’s look back at his own youth in central California. So for him, I would imagine this is how he remembered his teenage years.

One thing this did for me was to point out the incredible changes my generation has lived through. Following the time period depicted in this movie, there were so many huge events, life-changing, society-changing, earth-changing happenings. Beginning with the JFK assassination, of course, but then the rise of the Viet Nam war (which my generation fought), the race riots, the anti-establishment ethos which very quickly developed during the sixties, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr, and Robert Kennedy. These last two deaths affected me personally more than the death of President Kennedy. I had heard RFK campaigning in person in Lincoln. I was so much more aware of the wider world around me than I had been when JFK was killed.

And of course, the Viet Nam war affected us extremely deeply. I served two years in “civil service” as a conscientious objector to the war. One brother-in-law spent four years in the air force. Many of my classmates went to fight and never came back. Many of my generation came back deeply scarred from their experiences.

What a time it was!!! And American Graffiti helped bring up many of these memories. If you haven’t ever seen it, I would recommend you watch this movie, either to recall this era if you are close to my age, or to help understand this era of an earlier generation.

 

Olivia

Watch the brief video of seven-month Olivia learning to crawl. There is so much we can learn from her! One, she goes to such immense effort to accomplish her task. She works and works, finally getting herself up on all fours. Two, when she falls down, there is no sense of failure! She smiles, quite proud of herself, for what she’s done! Three, notice the huge sigh as she rolls over onto her back. She is content!

Another lesson is that Olivia has no concept of the immensity of her victory. She does not realize its place in her overall development. She does not think of what she’s accomplished to lead up to this next victory. She has no idea of what is yet ahead of her in terms of developing mobility! All she knows is that she has this urge to get herself up onto her hands and knees. Totally in the present moment.

Dolan

UFO’s for the 21st Century Mind, by Richard M. Dolan. A very helpful book. Especially for one like me, who has read here and there about UFO’s, but never extensively. Dolan’s book gives a concise overview of UFO’s over the years. He conjectures about the secrecy surrounding UFO’s, and offers suggestions about the possibilities of disclosure on the part of the powers-that-be.

It is exciting to consider what could be, what has been, what is now. I have no trouble at all believing that ET aliens are among us, and influencing human development and society. And I equally have no trouble understanding why governments have wanted to keep this secret. Dolan helped put that into perspective for me. While I certainly do not agree with their decisions, I can understand a bit more why they felt the need to keep all this secret.

I appreciate the work which Richard Dolan and others have gone to to keep us informed. Researchers like him go to great lengths to ferret information from the dark corners of secret government programs and then present it to the public in comprehensible ways. Dolan is an interesting lecturer; I heard him last year here in Calgary. It is well worth your time to check him out, whether in person, or through this, his latest book.

Sons of Wichita

Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty, by Daniel Schulman. This book was a real eye-opener for me. Like most people, I had not heard of the Koch Brothers until the past decade or so. Exactly how they themselves like it.

I lived ten years of my life in the Wichita, Kansas area, the place where the Koch brothers originated. And I never had an inkling there were people of such influence in that area. This is probably a good thing, because everything I have heard from and about these brothers causes in me an intense dislike of these people. I am glad I did not know during the 70’s, when I lived in Kansas, about the Kochs. It certainly would’ve coloured my stay there.

This book, while it certainly gave a more human perspective of the Koch family than I had had heretofore, ultimately ended up reinforcing my dislike of them. They seem to epitomize everything I have ever thought evil about the influence of too much money. They have an air of arrogant entitlement about them. They think that with their money they can influence and “buy” American politicians, directly affect elections, and shape society toward their own narrow view of how things “should be”.

The book begins with the story of their father and his beginnings in the oil industry, first in Texas, then moving to Wichita, and ultimately building a global corporate empire, mostly in the oil business. The family was spectacularly successful, financially. The father, Fred Koch, had four sons. Two of them, Charles and David, basically took over running the Koch Industries in its various guises after their father passed on.

In the beginning they went out of their way to remain secretive, out of the public eye. But as they spent more and more energy attempting to shape American politics and society they inevitably became known. And what we see is not pretty.

Before Fred died he said to all four of his sons that the extreme amount of money they would inherit could influence them either for good or for evil “You will receive what now seems to be a large sum of money,” Fred Koch cautioned. “It may either be a blessing or a curse.” Unfortunately his worst fears seem to have been realized.

The story of the Koch family filled me with intense sadness. Their inheritance has basically caused them decades-long strife. For long periods some of them would not talk to each other except through their lawyers. Numerous litigations have sundered their harmony as brothers. They all have lived very dysfunctional lives; none seem particularly happy with their lives.

A friend who read this book before I did said that the book gave a much more human perspective to the Koch family than he had had before. I would agree. More human, but for me at any rate, certainly not more sympathetic. To read about how they grew, how they shaped their empire, how they run their businesses, what sort of people they really are, has only strengthened my negative perspective of them.

They appear to have no morals beyond greed. They care nothing for people who might be hurt or killed by their business activities. They care nothing for the environment, seeming to view it purely as their private playground for getting rich. They care nothing for American or global society. Anyone not of their level economically is as nothing to them. Their interest is only in people who can further their own riches and hold on power. They care nothing for democracy. They think they have the divine right to call the shots and make the decisions. Only they know what is best for America and they brook no opposing opinions.

And that is exactly how they run their businesses. “They have a very rigid selection and development process. . . . They want to make sure they’re hiring the right people with the right ethics and the right business orientation.” This is a quote from a former Koch executive. (p251) Another person commented on the intense brain-washing seminars employees were required to attend. “‘These,’ he noted, ‘were the days that my friends and I used to refer to as the “the Shadow falling on Rivendell”‘–an illusion to the evil pall Sauron casts over the elven stronghold of Rivendell in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.” (p251)

A Wichita lawyer who ran for Congress in 1996 who knows many people working for Koch Industries talks about the culture of fear. “‘I have never seen a place where people are afraid like this where they work,’ [he] said, noting that some of his friends who work for Koch jokingly refer to it as the ‘evil empire.’ He added, ‘There’s a culture of fear out there.'” (p253)

Another former Koch executive says it this way, “They weren’t involved in change-the-world stuff then.” (p264) Earlier, their father Fred had been intricately involved in the beginnings of the John Birch Society, an ultra-right wing society seeking to shape American society into their own narrow vision. Later on, Charles’ libertarian views led him “. . . to study a handful of libertarian outfits he supported with a view toward recalibrating his strategy to bring about a free-market revolution. The plan they hatched culminated some 30 ears later in the creation of a powerful political fiefdom within the broader Republican firmament that threatened the GOP establishment itself. Their strategy helped lay the intellectual and organizational groundwork for the Tea Party and other Obama antagonists.” (p264)

Everyone, especially Americans who are attracted to the conservative end of the the political spectrum, absolutely needs to read this book. It will open your eyes. You may not come to as negative a view as I have through this book, but it cannot help but enlighten the reader to some extent. I think the author has done society a huge favour in opening up at least a little the story of this family of Kochs.

Good people

Several events and memories have given me cause to consider the families of people from which I come, and from which my wife comes.

Last month I drove from Alberta to California to visit a 97 year-old aunt. Her mind as sharp as it has always been, we talked about family history, ancestors whom I had only dim, childhood memories of, others I had never known, or had only heard stories about.

The recent news of a cousin’s bout with cancer causes me to contemplate life in its overall sweep, its brevity, its fickleness, its unpredictability.

Yesterday’s email from a woman recently married into my wife’s family: “Your parents were truly two of the most genuine people I had ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I will never forget them. . . . I am proud to be a part of [your] family.” This about a father who had barely an elementary school education, but who exhibited a profound wisdom about life, parents who “made do” in whatever circumstances life threw their way.

Both my father and my wife’s father had reputations of being able to fix whatever was broken.  Both were considered quite genius in being able to make things work again.

Eight years ago we met our future daughter-in-law’s parents for the first time, in China, a culture still very mysterious to western ways of thinking. One of the questions that evening from my son’s future father-in-law, after we had spent several hours discussing cultural things such as family values, life aims, etc, was, “Are there other people in Canada as good as you?”

That question set me back in my chair!! As good as us? We are just two very ordinary people in our Canadian landscape. There is nothing remarkable about us. We struggle through life like anyone else. We make our way as best we can, learn from our mistakes, live content in whatever circumstances life throws our way (like our parents before us). But that one question has stuck with me over the years, especially upon occasions like last night, when we were with our son and daughter-in-law to help celebrate Chinese New Year’s Eve. Her father had just returned yesterday from China where he had gone to complete some paperwork in their efforts of immigrate to Canada. He was successful, making the evening one of joyous celebration on several levels. Those Chinese folks, who a scant few years ago knew almost nothing about Canada, whose exposure to North American culture was only through our son, and then us, are now almost through the process of moving here permanently and becoming part of that Canadian culture. In their own way, in their own context, they too are “good people”. Their values coincide with ours to a very significant extent.

All of these events and memories have given me cause to reflect on who we are in the larger context of the world. For myself, I have become aware of the fact that my role in society is not necessarily to accomplish grand aims. I am to be a common, everyday sort of person, spreading good will, peace and compassion in whatever way I can to individuals in small ways. My OBE‘s have reinforced this self-perception and reassured me that I am indeed doing a good job at what I came to earth to do.

I look at the families around me and see that I come from stock with similar tasks: simple, everyday people who live life quietly, accomplishing whatever tasks life throws their way, being “good people”.

This February morning, in the year 2015, I picked up a book my wife had just laid bedside for herself to read. Its title caught my attention. Reading the back cover showed me this book was right along the lines of what I had been contemplating recently.

“In a time of social and ecological crisis, what can we as individuals do to make the world a better place? . . . . a grounding reminder of what’s true: we are all connected, and our personal choices bear unsuspected transformational power. By fully embracing and practicing this principle of interconnectedness, we become more effective agents of change and have a stronger positive influence on the world. . . . Eisenstein relates real-life stories that show how small, individual acts of courage, kindness, and self-trust can change our culture’s guiding narrative of separation, which, he explains, has generated the present planetary crisis.”

I will read this book after my wife is finished it, and after I finish reading the several books I myself have on the go, and will review it in this space. Watch for it!!

In the meantime, I will go about my very ordinary life, doing very ordinary things, together with very ordinary people in a very ordinary context!

Judyth Vary Baker

Judyth Vary Baker, author of Me & Lee: How I came to know, love and lose Lee Harvey Oswald.

Very few people still believe the “official” line that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone-nut assassin of President John F. Kennedy. So much information has been coming to light in the past decade or two that that “official” position has lost all credibility.

If any doubt still lingers in your mind, this book, Me & Lee, will convince you! Recreating her memories of the summer of 1963 in New Orleans, Judyth Vary Baker tells her story, her own story, and her relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald. She relies on a prodigious memory, on scrapbooks full of momentos, photos, plus talking to others who were involved in her time in New Orleans (those that are still alive).

Judyth has kept quiet all these years, afraid for her life, essentially. After most of the main players from that summer died suspicious deaths (i.e., “murdered” – like Oswald), she feels lucky to be alive into the 21st century. She currently lives outside the USA, under the protection of another country. Even after fifty years, she pays, “. . . my own price for speaking up. Not only have I been subjected to rude insults and conspicuous harassment on the internet I have experienced mysterious car crashes that appear to have been efforts to discourage me from telling the world what I know. I have experienced death threats so terrifying that I applied for political asylum in a Scandinavian country.” (p 559)

It is almost beyond comprehension that fifty years after the events of Dallas on November 22, 1963 US government officials are still so threatened by the truth surrounding those events that they would harass someone who was involved, no matter how peripherally.

What Judyth knows and tells about, is that she and Lee Harvey Oswald were young lovers that summer. She tells the story of a very intelligent, sensitive, caring young man who worked with the FBI and CIA, attempting to thwart assassination attempts on the President. Judyth got pulled into this sinister and covert world through her interest in cancer research. As she began to work with some of the leading cancer researchers in the country she gradually became aware that what she was working on was a cancer-biological weapon designed to kill Fidel Castro. The thinking was that if Castro was dead, Kennedy would be seen in a more positive light, and his life would be more secure. Those in the CIA, like Oswald, were increasingly aware that there were plots to kill the President, coming from some within their own organization. Many of those in the know were opposed to this death plot. They patriotically supported the President, and thought it totally diabolical to cold-bloodedly plan to eliminate him.

This book deals only with the fringes of this plotting; it focuses instead on the relationship between Judyth and Lee. It is a tender-hearted, delicately-crafted love story. Very well-written, it contains elements of classic tragedy. We all know, before reading the story, what the outcome will be. We all know there were evil forces at work to thwart the intent of the young lovers.

I found this riveting story to be a real page-turner; periodically I had to give my head a shake to remind myself that this story was real, that the author was relating events that really happened, that this romance “novel” was not fiction.

This book can be read on any number of levels. It can be read as a story of romance; it can be read to understand how an extremely gifted young woman in the 1960’s came to find herself involved in the highest levels of cancer research in the country; it can be read by those interested in knowing more completely the facts, the real story, behind the JFK assassination. It is a fascinating read; I cannot wait to read Judyth’s follow-up story of another player in New Orleans during the summer of 1963, David Ferrie. The author has done the world and her country a great, great favour in daring to tell her part in the history-changing events of 1963. I applaud her courage in sticking her neck out, knowing she was risking her life, to tell her story.