Sunday, July 28, 2013

SUPREME COURT

Jeffrey Toobin has impressed me on tv and with a few of his books. After reading "The Oath,"I am  reflecting on some of the points brought up as well as my reactions to recent news on The Supreme Court.  There is a great deal of contention over the role of the Supreme Court whether it is really political or making technical legal decisions in a neutral manner.

We would all respect it more, even when we disagree if we felt they were making difficult decisions using only logic.  There are a lot of hard feelings to contend with and to me it seems obvious that often political factors play a deciding role.

People are elected for all sorts of reasons, but a driving force are these hard feelings.  Such ideas as we deserve protection, life is sacred, we deserve freedom.  Most people would agree in part with the three sentiments, but can get very concerned over the details.  To assure their details are given attention it makes sense to organize around implementing them.  The vast majority of us find our time taken up with survival and the pursuit of happiness.  We tend to let others make many decisions for us assuming that our wishes will be respected.

Leaving decisions to others always means that people with different motivations can force their concerns by focusing organizing efforts.  I have written ad nauseum elsewhere about defects of the electoral system and short-sightedness of politicians.

There seem to be just a few schools of thought.  One is that free markets are the basis for decisions. Another school feels corporations have too much power.  Another school is concerned about human rights.  Still another is concerned about fundamentalist beliefs that need to be forced on the rest of the population.  A bit oversimplified, but there are large segments of the population that stress the importance of one or more of these schools.

The American electoral system requires money, lots of it.  It is difficult to raise funds without obligations.  Organizing voters is tricky as there are many issues.  Many people boil their decision down to just one or two key issues.  Aggregating issues is a delicate art form.  The Republicans have found that wealthy people can supply the necessary funds, but most people realize their agenda is not favorable to the little guy.   However many voters are more focused on social issues such as abortion, gay rights, immigrants and find themselves voting against their own economic best interests.

One particular party was very critical of activist judges, but in retrospect it seems they meant they didn't have enough activist judges of their own.  If there were any doubts after the Gore vs Bush travesty there should be none left now.

The Supreme Court is only nine individuals who are selected through a political process.  They are appointed for life by whichever party is in power at the time of a vacancy.  The selection process has its own set of obstacles and the people selected are chosen not so much for their qualifications, but for their perceived ability to get through all the hoops.  The candidates have their own campaign and need to be careful not to offend.

A decision by the current Supreme Court in effect gave corporations the status of people at least as far as free speech in elections.  In a few senses this is incredibly ridiculous, but more importantly it is undemocratic.  Everyone's opinion should count equally or least have an equal opportunity to express it, but in reality money distorts that concept.  As corporations are really just an aggregation of people and capital they have a lot of power.  An individual can go outside and yell whatever strikes them worth the effort or to quietly try to persuade neighbors, acquaintances.   Theoretically with talent an individual might create a bigger personal audience, but to get a very big audience costs money and in one sense it is relative.  A minute on tv can be bid for, including the more desirable minutes and the more desirable audiences.  The inter-net has a leveling effect.  With talent and skill anyone's words can be read by millions although they may not possess wealth.  Corporations are trying to figure out how they can more effectively harness this new platform.

What is fair for one side, might be considered fair for the other, but the real concern is what is best for the people.  It would be acceptable if at least the decisions made were favored by the voters, but that is not always the case.  It is doubtful that many voters actually consider corporations as persons entitled to pay for election campaigns.

Western legal systems are considered one of the reasons our civilization is superior.  In truth every one benefits when there is true justice.  Unfortunately money tends to the will of those who have the most.  Although an American President is forced to retire after a maximum of eight years they can appoint a Superior Court judge for life that can have more effect on the citizen.  In effect electing a president (and the Senate that confirms judges) has an even longer impact than most voters assume.

If everyone got along and was content with how life was treating them there would be no need to make laws.  Unfortunately people at all points of the spectrum are taken advantage of and it might be said we need protection from ourselves.

The principle of appointment for life is supposed to protect the judiciary from political pressure, but it also locks in one set of perceptions.  Perhaps a compromise might be a reasonably lengthy appointed time such as 10 years.  It would be hoped that whatever time might be agreed upon it could be staggered so that the people do not have a drastic change in a short period of time.

I have been in many informal talks about politics and justice and we often joke at the end, "now that we have solved the world's problems."  Of course no one in power is even aware of our efforts, but it is still in our best interest that many people have these conversations so we can think out the serious issues and make an intelligent decision at that time that really counts or even better enter the discussion at a more thoughtful public level.  Your thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

NEW ZEALAND ODDS & ENDS

Settling back in Canada to my regular routine it is time to reflect on our recent New Zealand trip.

In Canada we live in the middle of 5 1/2 time zones and seldom have to worry much about them except perhaps watching sporting events or a national election.  With New Zealand we were dealing with 16 hours difference which has an effect on all your natural body functions.  To confuse the issue more they are ahead of North America as the dateline is just to the east of New Zealand.  We realized our sleeping patterns left only a few hours of conscious overlapping time with those we left behind in Canada.

From North America you will be confused by the left-hand side driving.  Even as a pedestrian you have to be alert to look in the right direction to avoid being hit.  Often as a passenger I cringed as turns and lane changes seemed to go against my natural instincts.  This extends to walking where we saw signs that told you to bear left instead of right.  Most of us walking the streets ignore this rule, but when you come head on to another walker the New Zealander tends to go to the left.  They say you will get used to it.

One thing quickly noted is prices.  Most things appear to cost a little more than we are used to.  Like Canada and the United States they use a dollar based economy, but at the moment both North American dollar currencies are worth more so as visitors you have a 10-20% discount already.  Unlike in Canada all taxes are built into the price.  In restaurants tips are not expected and on credit card transactions tips are not usually even an option.  New Zealand does have to import many of their goods, but they have been clever in developing ways of earning their way in the world.

Most of their energy is imported and this is reflected in higher gas prices.  New Zealand seems more conscious of environmental concerns than do North Americans.  It took me awhile to catch on that when flushing a toilet you have two choices;  lesser amount of water or for a bigger job a greater amount of water.  Another energy saver was encountered in parking garages amongst other facilities where sensor lights went on as you approached and went off as you left.

Getting to New Zealand from central Canada is arduous, but Air New Zealand makes it easier. With a twelve hour+ flight (from Los Angeles) you anticipate a lot of discomfort.  They go to a lot of effort to minimize that.  The first thing we saw as we approached our economy seats was a pillow, blanket and head phones.  A touch screen had far more movie and music options than I ever encountered on a airplane.  Before leaving you can actually preview the choices on their webpage.  They take a lot of attention to food, giving you two main interesting choices at each meal.  A major part of the food is grown in New Zealand..  They also pay attention to wine selections.  You are given choices of reds or whites (or other beverages).  Towards the end of your meal they may offer to top up your wine. New Zealand wine is among our favorites.  Snacks are available on demand.  I watched two movies on each trip and listened to some music taking some time to rest.

Our taste adventure continued after we landed.

We enjoyed a wide variety of meals.  There are a lot of Asians in New Zealand and a lot of them opened up restaurants.  I used chopsticks for at least four meals, but have a long way to go in that regard.

One of our first meals was at Beijing Duck in Panmure, a part of Auckland.  I had never understood what was so special before about what used to be called Peking Duck.  The actual duck had to be ordered a few hours in advance.  Properly prepared it is an experience--sliced and put in very thin rice wraps with other Chinese condiments it is wonderful.  I also used chopsticks in a Chinese noodle restaurant in the same area and discovered a sauce I plan to seek out (but only have the Chinese labeling to help me).  A Japanese restaurant required chopsticks and I recall using them at a Malaysian restaurant in Wellington where I also tried a type of milk tea that was delicious.

We enjoyed Indian and Turkish food, both of which are very common throughout New Zealand.  Along ethnic lines we also had some Mexican food that was as good as back home.

On my wife Sharon's birthday I had discovered an Italian restaurant, Delicious that offered a rare delicacy, gnocchi with gorgonzola which I enjoyed with a glass of wine.

Driving between cities we gave into our hunger cravings in the small town of Shannon.  In a restaurant that was basically Chinese we had fish n chips.  In some ways it was the best value of the whole trip so I will mention the name, Sun Ming's Takeaways in the town of Shannon.  I ate Terakihi fish which I could only spell after reading about it in "The Bone People," a famous New Zealand novel.

Back home we occasionally enjoyed eating British style meat pies from a favorite vendor at the Hamilton Farmers' Market, but New Zealand takes meat pies (which they simply call "pies") to a new level.  They were bigger, meatier and sometimes spicier. My favorite was Kristy's Cafe in Wanganui where I had heard of their Raetihi pies.  They lived up to their billing and one of the waitresses  earned my respect by customizing an order for Laura, my son Michael's girlfriend.

Another New Zealand product is lamb.  Normally I would eat lamb two or three times a year maximum, however well aware that it is a specialty here I ate several variations of it.  I will admit that the best version was a home dinner cooked by Laura.   I also had lamb as a garnish on bruschetta, as a meat pie and burger filler and the meat choice for a few of my Asian entrees (New Zealanders call them "mains").  I expect to eat lamb more often.  Sheep are everywhere in New Zealand outside the cities.

Another researched item was prawns which are harvested in Lake Taupo amongst other places.  I had a few versions of prawns with Mexican and Asian mains.

There were times when it was more convenient to hit a global chain and we did three or four times.  The service was more than adequate, but I wanted to add in that the McDonald's McCafe in Taupo  made us feel important with their service.

Traveling in the off season (their winter) made some things a little easier and affordable.  The most luxurious hotel was the Comfort Hotel on Cuba Street in Wellington where we stayed three nights.  The staff was also very good helping us find our way around.  The most interesting was Parkside Lodge in Napier where the owner, Sateesh was especially helpful and set a unique decor.  He had an old fashion record player and rotated a variety of music.  They had kitchen facilities shared with other guests (and supplied with herbs and baked goodies from his wife).  Their dog Chutney was entertaining.  We also stayed at two Backpacker lodges which are affordable, if somewhat basic.  The managers were also helpful in directing us to where we wanted to go.

Music is important to me as a cultural link.  I had already liked opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa and Maori music.  In my research I learned of a number of more contemporary musicians and have decided that Bic Runga needs to be added to my library. A CD was purchased and I have been listening to it back home and love it.  Each time I listen to it memories of New Zealand will be stirred.

While doing all the things related in the three blog posts I also managed to squeeze in close to my normal reading.  Even though I was half way around the world I was able to return two books and borrow another from the Hamilton Public Library (the one in Ontario).  E books are wonderful.

In my first blog on New Zealand I commented on some of the reasons that Auckland is often considered one of the five best cities in the world to live in.  Mostly just commented on the weather and the scenery.  I had read "Fairness and Freedom" that contrasted American focus on freedom with the New Zealand focus on fairness and although there needs to be a balance between the two concepts many people would find the New Zealand emphasis is more comfortable to live with.  You can read my blog on that at http://bit.ly/LxMuvF .  I would also mention that unlike in Canada or United States they have a form of proportional voting which to me means each of their votes really counts which I feel is reflected in their lifestyle.

A fair amount of our time was devoted to taking photos which are my favorite souvenirs.  Sometimes one can get so intense about getting another photo or another angle that you fail to enjoy the unique moment.  We also visited several locations looking for the perfect souvenirs.  Souvenirs are a serious business for many, yet in some ways seem trivial.  We are really looking for memories which is the English translation of souvenirs.

When much younger I had the idea that I had to see everything there was to see, but as I aged I realized that is not possible.  Going to a Cuban beach the last few years I did more pure relaxation, but was still itching to see something I hadn't seen before.  There are a lot of interesting, even exciting things to see in this world, but you will enjoy life more if you can accept that life has brought you wherever you are and the best thing you can do is to enjoy that moment.

You can read New Zealand Part 1 at http://bit.ly/11auMYt which is focussed on Auckland.  New Zealand Part 2 recounts a 1600 kilometre motor trip around the North Island including the Waitomo Caves http://bit.ly/134PsCu

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

NEW ZEALAND PART 2

You can't appreciate a country from one big city.  Our son, Michael wanted us to see more of his adopted country, New Zealand than just Auckland.  Four of us packed in a car and traveled over 1600 kilometers around the North Island in a week.

First stop was Waitomo for the glow worm caves.  We were disappointed you couldn't take flash photography, but it was an experience.  We were told that the acoustics were so good that special concerts featuring the likes of the Vienna Boys Choir have performed there.  Glow worms were pointed out to us and at first you could barely notice them, but gradually as your view took in more of them you appreciated the uniqueness and beauty.  At the end of the walking tour we were put in boats and told to be quiet.  Of the whole trip the feeling of awe was strongest on this gentle boat trip.  In another cave we walked a great deal and took loads of photos.

From Waitomo we had a long drive that took us through curvy mountainous roads that included a little snow before we reached our next destination, Wanganui, sometimes spelled Whanganui.  A local resident told us that New Zealand produces a lot of racing drivers that got their training going through the mountains.  In the off season we intended only a sleepover, but the next day we were directed to the Durie Hill Elevator, the only underground elevator in New Zealand.  At the top we walked up two monuments that gave an excellent view of the town and of the Wanganui River.

While there we encountered a man walking his dog who suggested we might like Virginia Lake which I could not recall from any tourist literature.  In the middle of a residential area it proved to be quite the gem.  In one section they had many birds in a confined area that were very colorful and entertaining.  Just outside were more domesticated birds like ducks and chickens. Next we entered a winter garden that had very warming colours. Back outside we circled the actual lake with lots of interesting wild birds and trees.  One of the highlights for me was a carved tree still in the ground.  The Maori design was very intricate.

Our next destination was Wellington, the capital, not as big as Auckland, but with its own unique atmosphere.  Our hotel was located right on Cuba Street full of interesting restaurants and shops.

One of the first attractions we visited was the Te Papa Museum-. Again a lot of emphasis on the Maoris and on relevant geological developments.  One of the better museums I have been in.

One brand that has made the world more conscious of New Zealand has been "Lord of the Rings". We visited the Weta Cave that has many of the artifacts on display and has a film that outlines effectively the contributions of the staff.  I had not realized they have been integral to many films I had thought came wholly from Hollywood.

We quickly drove to a movie theatre in Lower Hutt, a suburb of Wellington.  The huge theatre impressed me as much as any theatre in any big city.  The food options included the familiar, but had a few Kiwi additions.  Our tickets were to particular seats which were very comfortable.  We watched "World War Z" which we all enjoyed.

The goal the next morning was to see live fur seals in the wild.  We opted to walk for about an hour along the coast of Cook Strait at the Te Kopahou reserve only minutes from our hotel. When we arrived there were dozens of fur seals very unconcerned about our presence letting us get to within 10 meters.  It is one thing to see friendly domestic animals, but it still feels different to get close to wild animals.  Part of the satisfaction was the effort to reach them.

Researching for the trip I learned about an art project in a small park and was pleased to learn it was within easy walking distance.  Te Aro Park is  a small triangle intersection with a fountain and some bits of tile and sculpture.  Also not far was some other bits of sculpture including the Bucket which splashes water on a continuous basis right on Cuba Street.







Shown on all the Wellington tourist brochures is their cable car.  It starts in a commercial mall and goes up a steep hill with three stops.  We got out at the Wellington Botanic Gardens.  I was very impressed with the trees, but wished I could have viewed more flowers in their summer season.









One fact that makes Wellington so important is that the national government is there.  We got inside for a tour, but ran out of time.  Aside from government departments, they have set up three buildings side by side that represent the legislature, the executive and the national library. The building where the elected officials have offices  is very unique and is labeled the Beehive.  While there I ventured into their gift shop and ended up buying a political satire book., "Don't Vote-It only encourages them!"


Napier was a town that had been flattened by an earthquake in 1931.  They rebuilt it in a style fashionable at the time, Art Deco.  It is prevalent downtown and in some residential areas.

Napier is also home to the National Aquarium.  The building is designed to appear as a stingray from the outside.  Inside it is much bigger than it appears.  All sorts of interesting sea creatures are in glass (or plexiglass) containers.  One room is an immense tank where visitors walk through a tunnel and view a wide variety of fish, including sharks.  Since coming to New Zealand I have been on a quest to see their national bird the Kiwi.  Everywhere there is a ban on flash photography as the kiwi is a nocturnal animal. Here we at least got to see a live kiwi and in a night atmosphere they are lively.

From there we drove to Taupo which is on the largest lake in New Zealand.  We played  mini golf and watched a few golfers try an unusual hole in one contest.  They drove the ball from land, but tried to hit a hole on a floating deck several feet away.  The owner said he got a hole in one every few weeks.


The next morning we drove towards Rotorua first visiting Huka Falls.  There is only about a nine meter drop, but the water is very fast.  One sign noted that because of the hard flow no eels are found in Lake Taupo.

Nearby was the Huka Honey Hive.  Honey is an important export for New Zealand and we had been told while in Canada that it is some of the best in the world.  There were a lot of temptations--I gave into an urge to buy honey flavoured ice cream in a cone which was delicious.  I was tempted to buy pickles that were marinated in honey and rum, but was told it would be too difficult to take home.  We did taste a variety of honey samples and ended up buying a few small jars.  A woman in charge of tasting has a son in London, England and had many interesting things to say.  Realizing she was trying to persuade us to take on some heavy items to our luggage she pointed out that many travelers wear old underwear and then discard for trip back home.  She was successful in selling us some very tempting honey products.




Rotorua is a major tourist destination, with a lot of Maori and natural attractions.  We visited one location to watch bubbling mud and another to visit steam vents.  Might sound boring from a distance, but it is always amazing to see the power of nature.

Our last visit was to soak our feet in some water pumped in from these natural resources.  We had done a lot of walking up and down big hills, monuments and along seashores.  It felt good. Bear in mind this is the middle of New Zealand's winter.

After getting back to Auckland we learned of a Wellington minor earthquake about three days after we left.

I will add a few impressions of New Zealand and make some comparisons with my native Canada at http://bit.ly/18CG2m3.  A vacation should be more than just visiting tourist attractions.  You can read New Zealand Part 1 which focuses on Auckland at http://bit.ly/11auMYt

Monday, July 22, 2013

NEW ZEALAND PART 1

Scarcely anything is more boring than someone back from holidays with a lot of photos.  For me there were a lot of joyful memories I would like to share for those who might be interested.  New Zealand was about as far away as I could imagine, but our son Michael lives there and we felt it was past time to visit.

Auckland consistently is voted one of the top 5 most desirable cities to live in in the entire world. After spending a week there the reasons are not difficult to find.  The setting is like a fantasy--water is on just about all sides (a harbour on two different major bodies of water). My experience was during their winter, but the weather was like our middle spring.  One house near where we stayed was growing oranges on their front lawn.  Built on volcanoes there are a few notable viewing points right in the middle of town.  More on why people like Auckland in a future blog.

One visit was to Mount Eden, also known as Mangawau.  When you reach the top perhaps the first thing that strikes you is the grassy crater in the middle.  The second is the view.  You are in the midst of Auckland so you see the bustling modern downtown, but you can also see water in different directions.  One harbour faces the Pacific Ocean while another faces the Tasman Sea.  Boating is very popular and the evidence is plain to see.

Auckland has a world class museum.  You learn a lot about their Maori heritage.  It still baffles me the courage and skill required for the Maoris to sail and settle in New Zealand or as they call it, Aotearoa.   Their wood carvings are stunning.  Dinosaurs were not thought to be part of their heritage, but scientists have discovered otherwise.  They also display geological and ethnic developments over the South Pacific.  Lots of information with one section devoted to odd facts.

The Auckland Art Gallery is also impressive.  You can get a feel for how art developed from colonial times heavily influenced by Maori artistic notions.  You can also see European and American artwork.


Devonport is a part of Auckland that can be driven to, but for many people is more convenient to take a ferry ride.  We took the ferry to visit a boutique village as well as climb another big hill, Mount Victoria which at one time had some historic military facilities.

Downtown Auckland is very modern and diverse.
The diversity comes mainly from Asia and the south Pacific Islands, but includes the rest of the world including the established European colonists.  Buildings include classic older buildings and a variety of modern architecture.  There is park space and a number of interesting sculptures.

While window shopping downtown a sign that mentioned possum wool caught my attention.
We decided to investigate and learned that the possum was not our Canadian possum (who have invaded our backyard), but an Australian immigrant that loves to eat Kiwi eggs.  Some bright person figured that the fur of the dreaded Possum was actually very light and durable and so combined it with Merino wool.  We enjoyed the story and were impressed by the quality and ended up buying some yarn for a friend who knits.


On our last day we visited two unique parks. The first is called One Tree Hill.  Again in the middle of the city with a monument at the top and a volcano crater but what may catch your eye are dozens of sheep.














The other park was Western Springs.  Bearing in mind this was during the middle of winter it was a very pleasant display of nature.  Lots of not too shy birds.  What got our attention were eels which we had always thought of as gross, but having never seen one did not appreciate their beauty.







A special day for us was to visit our son's school where we were allowed to participate.  Sharon got to read two stories and talk to the students. We were impressed at how the youngsters responded to requests to tidy up and generally were well behaved and enthusiastic.







Another stop on our Auckland travels was The Big Picture, a restaurant with special wine tastings.  I had stumbled on them back home surfing the net.  We had developed a little taste for New Zealand wines and thought our vacation would be a great time to expand our knowledge.  Lisa is just as charming, enthusiastic and helpful as she is in her video which you can check out at:  http://www.thewineexperience.co.nz/  You smell a lot of specific odours (some pleasant, some not so) and then get to taste six different wines while watching a movie explaining the choices.  Lisa admitted that wine is very subjective, but there are details that can add to your enjoyment.  She explained some of the logic behind how some wine drinkers can tell what field a particular bottle was drawn from after tasting.  We both developed some new likes and have a bit better understanding about wine.





Just one of many interesting buildings downtown.  Old and modern mixed.






There is so much more to New Zealand than Auckland, but this is too long already.  You can read about our 1600 kilometre trek around the North Island including the Waitomo Caves at http://bit.ly/134PsCu and the last is about comparisons and hopefully some insights into what New Zealand offers the world at http://bit.ly/18CG2m3.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Real John Davidson

While searching for a new blog title, but wanting to retain the personal connection of my actual name I remembered an incident many years ago.

It was at a time when voice mail was done on a tape machine and not nearly as universal as today.  I bought one thinking it would make me more accessible for sales.  One of my wife's  close friends, Judy Graham caught the voice mail several times and when she happened to catch me in person she would often say "Is this the real John Davidson" before getting on to why she called.

This happened often enough that I got caught off guard when a young girl (I'm guessing teenager) with a similar voice phoned and started off with the exact same phrase, "Is this the real John Davidson?" My wife wasn't home and I decided to chat and carried on for awhile and finally assuming she was Judy suggested she and her husband come over for dinner.  Giggling took over and fairly soon the phone was hung up.  Looking back it seems she was phoning celebrity names for a lark.  So although people might recognize the name, I really am the real John Davidson.

I don't use the caricature to hide behind, but  it has become a brand.  OKD Marketing where I have worked for over two decades decided on the idea of doing caricatures of all the staff to post on our website.  I vaguely remember seeing mine (done by Eric Patte), feeling a bit insulted, but then forgot all about it.  The design was based on the fact that I carried around a lot of stuff every day.  I worked in two offices (often on each day), took work home and worked on the road and often carried a laptop, a brief case, another bag with personal things and usually a lunch bag.

Several months later I was trying to negotiate a deal with someone in Vancouver to sell lip balms and was trying to determine if he could provide the quality required.  A week or so later he couriered a parcel to me, at a time when I was swamped with other projects so I put off opening it.  He phoned a day or so later and I explained I would be opening it in another day or so and he insisted he wanted me to open it right away, so I did.  Stunned was my first reaction as it took me a few seconds to identify the design he had chosen.  It was my caricature which he had taken off the company website.  I ended up using the design on several samples and worked with the manufacturer for maybe two years.  I got to like it and have used it in several projects.  I intend to keep using it, but will try to include photos of the "real" John Davidson more often.

A big part of my blogging is just to express myself in what I think of as my unique perspective.  My name has been used by many other people, some of them with a great deal more celebrity than myself.  A long history resulted in my name and it fits a Scottish naming pattern.  Basically the name has integrated itself into my sense of self.   I am aware of a famous singer (I actually like him) and a famous hockey goalie and later commentator sharing the same name as well as many others, but I like to think I am unique.   In my blogs it is my hope that  any readers will get a view from the real John Davidson.