Monday, July 17, 2017


We can rant all we want about Donald Trump's misdeeds, but somehow he got into power.  An increasing majority of American voters now realize a horrible mistake was made.  Can we go forward somehow?  The problem is, the status quo suits some people.  In my head there are a number of enablers who bear responsibility.

Number One:  The electoral college.  You might think this is trivial or something that can't be changed.  The origin of the electoral college goes back to the Constitution negotiations.  The southern colonies (especially the elite) that owed their economic wealth to slavery were very concerned they would be out voted and were able to obtain some protections.  Even though they thought Africans were sub human they were able to obtain that a slave was worth 3/5 of a human which enabled them to build up their population base.  This was eventually discarded, but the electoral college has been maintained.  It assures that small states can have disproportionate power in presidential l elections.  In cold hard facts Hillary Clinton won almost an extra 3 million votes than Donald Trump and herself never contested the electoral college.  Obviously if you want to win you have to play by the rules and the Trump camp took advantage of the rules.

The Media that is now mostly upset played a significant role. Trump knows show business and attracted a notoriety that greatly boosted his platform.  As always the media was more interested in their own ratings than discussing the issues and the credibility of the candidates.  Climate change should have been a much higher profile issue, but the media mostly ignored it.

Should Trump lose power many will attribute it to the Russians.  The evidence is piling up that not only did the Russians want Trump to win, but were deeply involved.  Hillary Clinton had been critical of the Russian elections and honestly earned the scorn of Vladimir Putin.  Trump has in the past been helped by Russian mobsters.  The Republicans had their own motives, as usual taxes and regulations that were very concerning to the 1%.  They knew that a social agenda would help draw in evangelicals and many low education voters willing to vote against their economic self interest.  It is hard to keep up to date, but read the link for a good perspective on Russian activities.

The education system is uneven with many parts of the country investing more than others.  It seems ironic that Trump did best with the low education voters.  At the same time many of the wealthier better educated voted for their economic self interest.

Big money was not only able to contribute massive amounts of money for their interests, but because of laws passed by conservatives and supported by conservative elements in the Supreme Court, could keep much of it secret.  Elections should not be decided or even influenced by big money.  The big and dark money enabled gerrymandering that ensures Republican congress members fear their home base more than the Democrat opposition.

Ultimately the voters.  Did they really think Donald Trump was going to represent their interests?  Did they think he understood the complexities of the modern world?  Did they feel putting such an immoral man in charge of their nation was ok, because he would somehow do the "right" thing?  Unfortunately, despite losing the popular vote the Trump agenda will get its chance to set the country back and maybe much worse.

Democracy allows one to get what one voted for.  Some hope that after this experience the voters will wake up and vote more reasonably.  Hopefully they are right.

The photo is from a non voter, Sabre, but I like him much more than the enablers.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Democrats are frustrated.  They believe the facts are on their side, but voters persist in giving power to the Republicans, even against their own self interest.  George Lakoff argues that facts and reasoning are not enough, but that there is a way to better understand how to influence voters.   Words count.

Reasoning is the main weapon of the Democrats, but they overlook the critical role of emotions.  The conscious reasoning process is already lagging behind the unconscious reflex process.  The unconscious mind is the base for much of our conscious decisions.  There is discussion of neural connections and how everything fits into established unconscious patterns.

He divides voters into two camps--conservatives and progressives, but very definitely allowing that most people have a little bit of both tendencies.  There are words and images that tie to one "frame" and over a period of time can steer us in a direction.  If you listen you will notice that the Republicans use a well defined frame for their policies and criticisms.  Although no one is all conservative or all progressive in their thinking and we can be steered to accept views that are not totally compatible.

Conservatives are authoritarian and favour strict father while progressives are more nurturing parents.
Discipline is admired as is loyalty.  An example is that when Bush pardoned Scooter Libby for taking the rap for disclosing a secret service employee (Valerie Plame) the conservatives admire the loyalty displayed.  Masculinity (including what I call machoism) is admired as part of the same package.

A favourite word of conservatives is "entitlements" and have even been able to get Democrats to use the term.  It infers that they are luxuries that should not be taken for granted, instead of something voters help pay for.

A pet theme of conservatives is that regulations stifle business.  De-regulating is a stated goal of Republicans, but if you examine the issue what they really mean is regulations cut their ability to maximize profits.  A progressive view is that they are really protections.   Lakoff contends that if politicians always counter with the word "protection" voters would eventually realize they have a stake in the issue--their health, their financial security and their safety.  It really is a life and death issue, but Republicans have succeeded in picturing regulations as harmful.

Another beef he has is that conservatives are always wanting to privatize different functions on the premise that private business can do it more efficiently.  The problem from Lakoff's view is that the government has a mission to protect citizens while private businesses have profit as the highest priority.  These two goals are often in conflict.  Some examples of privatizing:  Black Water started by Erik Prince (brother to Betsy De Vos who wants to privatize education) contracts military services, but not accountable.  It has changed ownership and names, but still active.

9-11 was initially termed a crime,but was soon converted to terror and the government adopted a war powers putting Democrats on the defense.  Criticism was regarded as unpatriotic and many people suffered.

The Bad Apple defense is often used by conservatives.   A few underlings with little authority take the blame, not the organizers/designers.  One example was the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.  The big decisions were made at the presidential, cabinet minister level, but they were not punished.  Instead the focus was on low level employees.

Still another abused term is "Job Creators" who are pictured as the over taxed citizens who would start up factories, etc if they had the money when in fact no jobs are created without someone spending money.  Often poor people when given a little extra money are more likely to spend it than the rich who just gain a bigger cushion and the ability to better protect their greedy interests.

At the same time government jobs don't count.  Overlooking the fact that not only do their employees spend money, but they facilitate a wide range of market activities whether teachers, police, researchers, or even bureaucrats.

Taxes are always bad and progressives are criticized as spendthrifts who take hard earned money from deserving people and waste it.  Expenditures should be seen as investments--faciltiating and protecting.  Yes there is waste and government which is accountable to the voters must make efforts to control waste.

Metaphors are a critical tool we all use to make sense of things.  Republicans have mastered many of them.  Check

"The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt provides another perspective to my way of thinking demonstrates some of the underlying differences that voters start with.  He is more sympathetic to conservatives, but I think explains their base.

Paraphrasing Bill Clinton, "As we all become more interdependent we are more inclined to look for win-win solutions instead of win-lose"  reminds me of  Stephen R Covey and the fear Repulicans spout about dependency.

Deregulation and privatizing mark a shift from a government with accountability to the public to a government (private business) without accountability to the public--from a government with a moral mission to a government with a mission of maximizing profit.

I would like to leave with a link to George Lakoff's thoughts on how Trump triumphed (over reason). From this link you can learn more Lakoff's thoughts on other political matters.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A man called Ove

We all start judging people as soon as we are conscious of them.   It is hard to overcome our initial pre judgment, but everyone is deeper than their appearance.  Movies often dramatize how we are often wrong about our judgment.  This film from Sweden is a good example that some would call formulaic, but here it is well done and a reminder we are all fallible

"A Man called Ove" is at first sight hard to like.  He is a grumpy even belligerent nit picker.  Much of it is comic.  At the very beginning you see him deliver flowers to his wife's grave and talk to her giving him a touch of humanity.  He is disgusted with much of the world and wants to join his wife, but his suicide attempts are interrupted

His background is told in flashbacks.  You can see some of his dislikable characteristics, but he is humanized and you might guess a woman is behind it.  The formula works with Sonja a perky and more sophisticated young woman overcomes his awkwardness.  She sees something in him after a chance meeting, perhaps his honesty (even though he lies to make an impression) and earnestness.

One example of his pettiness is his preference for Saab cars and judging other people's character by what cars they buy.  A close friend drove a Volvo and later a BMW and this really tested their friendship.  My father thought Saab was the best car he had ever driven and had been asked to join their rally team.

Back to the present; an Iranian immigrant woman, Parvanah meets him when her Swedish husband's car backs into Ove's mailbox  She annoys him at first, but she is persistently positive and gifts a Persian treat which he ignores until he eats it out of desperation and likes it.. Her two children make him cringe at first, but over the course of the movie he becomes attached.  This also segways to why he doesn't have children.  Later in the movie when Ove and  Parvanah have formed a friendly relationship as he is teaching her to drive, he calls her husband a loser.  She is a very boisterous and pivotal character..

The ending is not unexpected with everybody appreciating Ove a bit more, although they are not privy to all the flashback information.  It feels so good  I felt compelled to recommend the whole movies as you can't appreciate the ending unless you have seen what led up to it.  A grumpy man has been mellowed with young children loving him.

A first time novel from Fredrik Backman inspired the film.  He is a blogger, a magazine writer and now a novelist with a few best sellers under his belt that have been translated into 25 languages.

Hannes Holm directed and wrote the script.  He started directing in 1987 and writing scripts in 1995.  He acted in films starting in 1981.

Rolf  Lassgard appeared in my favourite movie "After the Wedding," a Danish Oscar nominated movie.   He played a benevolent manipulator and won at least one award for it.  He is also known for playing Kurt Wallander.  He played Ove with a lot of bluster, but also subtlety.

Bahar Pars was born in Iran but came to Sweden in 1989 after Iranian-Iraq war.  Her acting career is all in Sweden.  She played the title characters in both "Anna Karenina" and "Hedda Gabler" on stage.  She also directed two short films; the second after this film she also wrote and produced.  It concerns a black woman asked to do a voice over for an advertisement that tries to steer her to a stereotypical role.

Ida Engvoll  plays Ove's wife seen only in flashbacks.    She brought a lot of energy as she had to make up for Ove's shyness.  She plays a title role in"Rebecka Martinsson"  tv series and also in some episodes of tv show I had seen earlier "The Bridge" a joint Danish-Swedish production.

The younger Ove was played by Filip Berg who like many Swedish actors gets most of his experience in television series.  He played a strait-laced man trying to make an impression on a vivacious woman.  He was a good complement to the older Rolf Lassgard.

The background music was provided by Gaute Storass, a Norwegian.  A few songs in Swedish and English helped set the mood.

Goran Hallberg was the cinematographer and had also worked on "The 100 Year Old Man who climbed out the window and disappeared.  Back in 2004 he filmed "ABBA:  Our Last Video Ever"

The editor Fredrik Morhedan has done over 40 films.  He was a creator for a popular Swedish tv series, "Blue Eyes"

A husband and wife team of Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr were nominated for an Oscar for best costume and makeup.  It was actually their second such nomination.  The earlier one was for "The Hundred year old man who climbed out the widow and disappeared."  for which they also received an Oscar nomination.  I had seen that movie and even watched a special feature showing how they applied makeup to create the 100 year old in nine stages of aging--they had to speed up the camera as it was a very long elaborate process.  They had done some other interesting films--the Swedish version of "The girl with the dragon tattoo" trilogy plus one of the English versions plusWallander series in Sweden and Britain.  In addition they worked on "Skyfall."  In Sweden film makers had not opted for expensive digital cleanup so that makeup crews had to be available during the shooting.  These two movies have made me appreciate makeup can have an important impact on a movie.

The producing team was headed by Nicklas Wikstrom Nicastra and Annica Bellander.  Nicklas had been a producer for over 10 films while this was only the third for Annica who worked in the marketing department for several films.

If you are looking for a serious movie with a few laughs and leave you feeling good, this is good choice.  If you are sick of formula movies then maybe you wouldn't miss it, but really your enjoyments are rare and you should reconsider.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A World in Disarray

Richard Haas has been on television programs as an expert in diplomacy and is well qualified to do so.  His words are measured and balanced.  Even if you don't totally share his political philosophy what he says and writes is worth considering.

He admires skilled diplomats and names Castlreagh, Metternich and Talleyrand and suggests the Congress of Vienna of 1814-15 was a good example.  The world is much more global now and every nation has global concerns such as climate change, health and trade.

He favours action after analysis.  He faults the Republicans for invading Iraq and even more for disbanding the Iraqi army and top level Baath party members.  After that he concedes there are no really good options, but nonetheless criticizes Obama for not trying to re negotiate to slow down troop withdrawals. There were a lot of factors, political, military and psychological.

He also faulted Obama for drawing a red line with Syria and then not enforcing it.  My perspective is that once Iraq was invaded it opened up a can of worms. and yes it was one of Obama's lapses in careful wording.

He is in favour of multi-lateral institutions, an example of which is Europe.  He feels the more they are linked the less apt they are to resort to war.

The United Nations is good, but sometimes needs to be gotten around.  Vetos assure some nations will continue to participate, but hamstrings the institution.  He speculates that over time nations will see their best interest lies in working together.  He points out that NATO intervened in the former Yugoslavia when it was needed.

Asia Pacific is the area that is most likely to develop to major power.  The rest of the world needs to develop links.  South Korea and Japan are both capable of developing nuclear weapons, but have declined with the understanding United States will defend them.  Although the Trans Pacific Partnership has been curtailed with U.S. declining, Haas felt it should have included China

South Asia which is basically the Indian sub continent is also growing to a major power.

Latin America and Africa need to develop links regionally and globally.  In general the author would like to see NGO and corporations invited to take part in international boards to expand input.

The big international concerns that affect every nation include climate change, health, nuclear weapons and trade.  Understanding each other's needs and a willingness to compromise or better work together is necessary for mankind to survive

"A World in Disarray" is not intended to be a prescription for all problems but as a guideline for how we should try to steer global relations.  A worthy read.

A little more up to date you can check out Richard Haas being interviewed by Bloomberg News on Donald Trump's first foreign trip:


Friday, June 23, 2017


Thomas Jefferson is revered for many things--the writer of the Declaration of Independence, the third president, accepted the Louisiana Purchase. and above all was thought to be a great liberal thinker.  There is one blemish on his record that now is hard to deny.  He likely had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings, a mulatto slave and fathered some children by her.   Almost overwhelming circumstantial facts plus some DNA evidence point to the likelihood of the relationship.  For many this is proof of hypocrisy.

Historical fiction has a dilemma.  Some things are known and cannot be ignored , but lots of things are not known that would help us to understand better.  There is virtually no records of their actual relationship nor even what Sally looked like so really everything is speculation.  A Picasso quote exemplifies the role of fiction, "Art is the lie that shows us the truth."

Stephen O'Connor couldn't resist and wrote "Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings," a fanciful speculation.  Was Jefferson a hypocrite?  History records much that demonstrates Jefferson was enlightened and sympathetic to blacks, but was very much constrained by the culture of the times.  When Jefferson was ambassador to France he took over or had sent some of his slaves and he paid them as they were technically free as France did not allow slavery.  When it came time to return they had the option to stay.  Supposedly Sally bargained for her unborn child to be free when turned 21.  Of course they all had family and friends back in Virginia and in reality were treated relatively well.

With over 600 pages it is intimidating to many of us, but it is easy to read as it is broken down in small segments.  It zips back and forth in time and gives a perspective from different angles.  How did the relationship get started?  what effect did it have?  how does Jefferson's personality align with cultural reality?  A curious world is anxious to fill in the many gaps

The author uses different tools including actual letters and records.  Over a range of chapters O'Connor has Jefferson watching a movie sometimes in the company of James Madison and his wife.  Long dead people express their feelings.  In reality we never can know the internal thinking process of actual historical people.  The reader is free to doubt the motivations, but they are interesting.

From my reading Jefferson is a very conflicted man, but also practical.  Not without stereotypical beliefs he advocated equality and took steps to reduce slavery.  His slaves were well treated by standards of the day even getting some trained in trade skills.  He seemed to be concerned what females wanted.  Above all he really was a Renaissance man who enjoyed philosophical discussions and took an interest in a wide variety of activities.  He also enjoyed inventing things, one of which surprisingly a swivel chair.

He felt that for democracy to survive it required public education and freedom of the press.  He founded the University of Virginia doing the initial architecture and unlike most other universities it was centered on the library rather than a church.

Sex is obviously a driver for the reader.  The author stretches it out.  Thomas Jefferson had never had sex with a virgin  (his wife was a widow and he is said to have visited prostitutes) and Sally is portrayed as a naive 16 year old, thirty years his junior.  The author originally supposed the first sexual encounter was rape, but his research hinted that it might not have been.  In O'Connor's telling, their relationship develops as he tries to teach her to read and have philosophical discussions .  His first attempts result in rejection and fear and his supposed sense of decency creates a wrestling match inside his head.  Eventually they are regular sex partners and she gets pregnant while in France.

Sally is often portrayed as a loving partner, but also one who resented the inequality.  Although given a lot of "freedom", she was not really free.  In reality she probably could pass as a white, in fact her children did.  She realized she was a half sister to Thomas Jefferson's children by his wife and was related to other whites through her mother. but was not given their range of choices

Most of the writing is concerned with the time before Jefferson became president with emphasis on France and Monticello.  In Paris he was very close to Lafayette.  He distrusted both John Adams and Alexander Hamilton and liked James Madison, but the reader is not offered too many political insights.

The book itself is not proof that an intimate relationship existed between the two.  The author accepts that such a relationship was very likely and fills in some of the gaps.  One would like to think their relationship was more than sexual, but there is very little concrete evidence.

For an idea of role of black slaves in the American economy and culture plus two interesting references to Thomas Jefferson:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Polls indicate the level of satisfaction with Trump is declining, but there is still a very hardcore fan base and he is backed by a majority Congress who are working on their own agenda.  The Supreme Court and lesser courts have been tilted conservative.  The Republicans have survived special elections, however with a reduced majority.

Perhaps I am too much an elitist snob, but I cannot understand why his manner of speaking and behaviour doesn't turn off everyone.  Boasting, especially about the trivial as well as important things all by itself should turn off most of us.  Exaggeration is offensive.  His lies are easy to catch and are getting commoner.  Egotism does not work well with Commander in Chief.

The Russian thing.  Maybe he was just the beneficiary of Russian efforts, but the contacts that we know about are very suspicious.  He has associated with Russian mobsters.  I read many months ago and confirmed more recently that the only Republican planks asked for were to do with lifting Russian sanctions.  They show little concern for Russian efforts to undermine the American elections--perhaps they just don't care now that they won with or without their help.  Vicious false stories took away from Clinton's platform.

Trump University illustrates how he looks at the masses.  Apparently he was willing to pay about $25 million dollars to shut the complainers up.  Ordinary people are just opportunities to squeeze more money while providing little value.  He complains about a meanness in the Affordable Care Act revisions, but has demonstrated plenty of his own disinterest in the welfare of his constituents.

This was not meant to be a litany of his many misdeeds. Unless you are illiterate you have had plenty of opportunity to learn about the blatant misdeeds of the Trump administration.  It is not just that Trump is terrible by himself, but he has enabled the minions of the 1% to start dismantling and reversing strategies beneficial to the rest.  He is influenced by despicables and tries to enlist their followers  in his cause.

As a foreigner I am not impressed. He did play the electoral college rules better than Hilary, but the rules originally were set up to protect slavery and do not reflect reality today.  Too many opponents voted third party or stayed home.  Who knows what the investigations will uncover, but there was plenty of evidence before he was elected.  Enough said.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

War as explained by Gwynne Dyer

A few weeks ago I was able to listen to Gwynne at my local library.   His talk inspired me to read one of his earlier books (based on tv series), "War."

War seems like a natural part of human history.  All our history seems to revolve around wars with the winners telling the stories.  Gwynne goes beyond recorded history to start his account.

Studies done in World II and further back to the American Civil War revealed a strange thing in that most soldiers did not fire their guns to kill.  Up until recently most soldiers were trained how to use weapons and obey orders, but little attention focused on motivating them to actually kill.  That has changed and Dyer gives the example of marine basic training.

War as we know it was not natural for hunter gatherers who often kept away from contested areas and even needed other groups for intermarriage.  When conflicts occurred (sometimes result of famine or drought) humans learned that aggressiveness paid off resulting in more resources including mating which in turn led to more aggressiveness.

When historical forces resulted in cities conflicts became more common.  To reinforce the need to kill one early development was the phalanx, originating in Mesopotamia.  It was with soldiers lined up in rows with the back roles pushing forward.  The Romans perfected this strategy and conquered much of the known world.

Tactics didn't change much, although many elements were added.  Horses were effective and had been bred to carry heavier loads.  They could be counteracted, and even elephants as well.  The big development was with guns preceded by bows and arrows.  They killed at a distance.  A little before WW I one response to guns was trenches.  They effectively stalled forward movement.  Airplanes first used in WW I were used for reconnaissance, and bombing.

A strategy developed to cut off supplies meaning that cities and civilians would be attacked.  Previously one's fate was decided on the battlefield, but non combatants became targets.

World War II ushered in the nuclear age.  The Germans has previously used V2 rockets to inflict danger from a distance.  It was possible to kill people without being consciously aware of them as humans.  The nuclear option obviously changed ideas.  The great powers realized if they used them against other great powers it would be the end for all.  Conventional wars were generally involving lesser powers.

Dwight Eisenhower warned about the power and influence of the military industrial complex.  Ammunition and weapons manufacturing have been politically powerful and naturally identify enemies to cause fear.

Dyer discusses guerrilla wars that can only succeed when there is political will behind them.  Two successful examples are Mao Tse Tung and Fidel Castro.  Terrorists do what they do because they cannot mount an army.

The book was revised in 2004, so does not cover drones or ISIL.  Gwynne has been keeping up with developments and thinks the dynamics have not changed critically.

Dyer sees some hope after a case study of baboons in Kenya using a quote from Frans de Waal., "The good news for humans is that it looks like once established peaceful conditions can be maintained.  And if baboons can do it why not us?"   It seems over twenty years ago the leaders of one baboon group, very aggressive and belligerent to females and lesser males claimed exclusivity over a dump that contained poisonous food resulting in their death.  Anthropologists studying the result over the years noted that the surviving baboons did not pick up the aggressiveness and belligerency of their predecessors and managed to live in peace.

The author traces the problem to the beginning of civilization.  Prior to that hunter-gatherers lived in small groups that were relatively eqalitarian,  It is only when agriculture allowed humans to live in one place and to greatly increase their numbers that top down decisions became common.  This begat power struggles that escalated to nation states contesting one another on a wide variety of issues.

Dyer identifies three trends that will demand global attention.  Climate change if not checked will accelerate and cross all borders.  New nations will rise in power for example China, India, Korea and Brazil questioning the old order.  And third technology will advance beyond the nuclear threat.

Quoting: "the rising powers must be absorbed into a system that emphasizes co-operation and makes room for them, rather than one one that deals in confrontation and raw military power.  If they are obliged to play the traditional great power game of winners and losers then history will repeat itself and everyone loses.  "  Military concerns take attention from climate change.  Multi lateral systems must survive or we won't.

The United Nations is certainly imperfect, but it is the best tool we have.  The League of Nations was a first step, but founders afraid of being too restricted.  The United Nations was formed with a more realistic format, but still faces a long path to world wide peace.  Progress will be uneven.

Nuclear weapons still attract insecure nations and the more widespread the more likely a problem.  Still some nations have rejected including Canada, Japan, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.  A few others have pulled back such as Argentina, Brazil and more recently Libya.

There is a lot of details with many historical examples to ponder.  Dyer, even today is fairly optimistic.  The critical factor now is mass communications.  People at all levels are more aware of world news.

To be well informed about international dynamics you really should read his weekly columns and if you do not have access to the over 100 newspapers you can catch up at his website,