The Importance of Leadership

The great actor Sir Ian Holm died recently. He was wonderful in Chariots of Fire, of course and people tell me he was fine in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I haven’t seen. But the movie I most loved him in was The Emperor’s New Clothes, a movie that imagines Napoleon coming back to France from St. Helena, and not being recognized. The former Emperor, down on his luck, meets and falls in love with a fruit vendor, and decides to help her fix her failing business. This has to be my favourite scene in the film, a moment that captures the importance of leadership and planning. So inspiring – whatever you do, do it well!

Carl Reiner, Thanks for the Laughter

I really have to thank Carl Reiner for so much of my childhood laughter, and, come to think of it, my adulthood laughter! I think The Dick van Dyke Show is probably the greatest sitcom ever (perhaps tied with The Mary Tyler Moore Show) – I grew up watching it in reruns in the 1970s – and The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming one of the funniest movies. Here’s a clip from the latter – I love the Norwegian reference, of course. And the mouthy little kid is so funny.

Inspirational

I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the 1990s and I follow its social media pages. One of the stories featured on the museum’s pages is the story of Shannon Allison, this extraordinary teacher in a Navajo community. So touching.

Woody Allen

I am a huge fan of Woody Allen – I think he is America’s finest filmmaker, rivalled only by Scorsese or Spielberg – and so I read his autobiography as soon as it was published. I was immensely relieved that it was published, as the forces of cowardice and stupidity (otherwise known as “cancel culture,” a term I am beginning to find tedious) nearly prevented that from happening.

Apropos of Nothing is a good read, and the chapters about his childhood and parents utterly charming. You can see where he got his attitude and humour. I absolutely love his approach to work – you just keep doing it and doing it and you not only ignore reviews (good and bad), you don’t even bother reading or listening to them. You do not let them get you down and you cannot stop being busy.

Of course, people want to read the book because of his private life. I always admired, in the past, how he simply didn’t rise to the criticism and similarly as with his work, just continued his relationship with Soon Yi. He seems to have found a love match there, with decades of marriage and two children. No one would deny that what he did caused immense pain and hurt to Mia Farrow, but it seems clear to me that she, in turn, used her anger about the breach of trust in a most unproductive way. Too bad – she has enormous gifts. I don’t believe that he molested his daughter – he was investigated by some heavy-hitters and neutral parties and no one saw any reason to prosecute.

Up until the publication of his book, he hadn’t addressed the charges and didn’t whine when various projects of his were boycotted/cancelled. He addresses the charges in the book, and I’m glad. The escalating invective against him from Farrow and some of her kids, as well as from some weasel-ish actors – who got great benefit from working with him and then disowned him — was creating too much noise.

One thing he points out is that Mia’s son Moses, a quiet, private young man, has defended him and painted a different portrait of the actress and her family. If you are interested in this saga, it is worth your time to read it. I find Moses infinitely believable. I grew up in a family that was cult-like (as he describes the Farrow clan) and I know that families like this don’t appreciate those who say, “Wow! This cult sucks!” That was my role in my family and I paid a steep personal price for it. When people have a lot invested in a lie, they don’t appreciate truth-tellers and they will punish them accordingly, often with shunning (it’s a bit like being Amish!).

In short, I find Allen delightful and it is worth noting that no actress has ever accused him of being a harasser – of demanding sexual favours in return for a good role, and so on. I also think his female characters are among the most fully-drawn of any filmmaker. It is clear he likes women, respects them and sees them as whole.

The one thing in the book I found amusing – in a sad way – was Allen’s mystification at how the left-wing press has abandoned him. In particular, he laments his treatment by The New York Times. Heck, I could have told him that would happen, but his reaction is one of disillusion, as though he expected them to be fair because they are left-of-centre. Ha! Ironically, one of the best reviews he got was in National Review. I also liked this Guardian interview – Woody Allen comes out fighting.

So I recommend his book and all his films- yes, all of ’em. It is the mark of a true talent that even his bad films are better than most people’s good ones (also true of Scorsese and Spielberg). I realize that your mileage may vary, dear reader, but please don’t cancel Woody Allen. We need him in this often sad world.

GenX: Why We Can’t Sleep

Ada Calhoun has written a book called Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis. Despite the cringey title, I really liked the book and Calhoun is a terrific writer. It was recommended to me by someone who knows that I (often) can’t sleep. Of course, sleep is not Calhoun’s main focus. Her focus is GenX women and where we are at, as we navigate middle age. I’ll highlight a couple of points that I thought were observant and bittersweet.

First, Calhoun makes a reference to the “infinite tolerance” policy of the parents of GenXers when it came to bullying and the “conviction that kids should fight their own battles.” Oh yes! And what a lousy idea. This was true in the general sense, at schools and in recreational activities – kids were nasty and you got crushed and adults did nothing. For me, it was true on a local and personal level – I had a brother (still have him but thankfully, have nothing to do with him) who made my life a living hell when I was a child and teen. He was twelve years older than me, and an adult when the real cruelty began (though I remember him beating me and tormenting me when I was, like, three and he was 15). Did my parents help? Don’t be silly. They helped him by joining in or by looking away. And my siblings (all older and many of them also adults) pretty much did the same.

A very peculiar approach to raising one’s children, yes? There must be a happy medium between fixing all your kids’ woes and simply neglecting them. (Note about said brother – he continued to try to bully me well into my adulthood, but thanks to the glories of the “block option” on email and on social media, he gave up and – so I’ve been told – found other prey.)

Second point I loved: Calhoun writes about a woman whose mother went from preaching Gloria Steinem’s famous “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” to behaving like Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Hilariously funny and totally my mum’s trajectory, as well, bless her. I even wrote a poem about her Mrs. Bennet phase.

I thank Calhoun for the book – I felt less alone and less nutty after reading it.

Coleman Hughes: Sanity

Readers, I’m in awe of this young guy. I am torn between just wanting to read everything he has written but also being madly jealous that a 24-year-old is this smart. Sheesh! When I was 24 I was still learning the alphabet. Here he is in conversation about current affairs, but you can find other clips and also, check out the link above for City Journal contributions. A special thanks to my clever nephew for introducing me to him.

Plague Walk Books

I try to take a long walk each day, usually while listening to an audiobook – I learn and burn calories! I occasionally select books I have already read, especially if I remember enjoying them or taking in a lot of information from them. One such book is Niall Ferguson’s Civilization. Here’s a relevant to today’s news (and to other things) paragraph (and a bit):

For some reason, beginning in the late fifteenth century, the little states of Western Europe, with their bastardized linguistic borrowings from Latin (and a little Greek), their religion derived from the teachings of a Jew from Nazareth and their intellectual debts to Oriental mathematics, astronomy and technology, produced a civilization capable not only of conquering the great Oriental empires and subjugating Africa, the Americas and Australasia, but also of converting peoples all over the world to the Western way of life – a conversion achieved ultimately more by the word than by the sword.

There are those who dispute that, claiming that all civilizations are in some sense equal, and that the West cannot claim superiority over, say, the East of Eurasia. But such relativism is demonstrably absurd.