Saturday, December 31, 2016

Film Memories from 2016

You might think I am obsessed with movies and you would be right.  A good movie gives insight and can be enjoyable.  Too many are time fillers.  Hopefully you will find some of those mentioned below to be enjoyable and insightful.

English speaking

"Room" of all the eligible films was the most deserving of Academy award in my opinion.  Psychologically the first half was very difficult to watch.  A young boy is really a prisoner, but he doesn't know it.  His captive mother protected her son by fabricating a frame for their lives.  Later we meet her mother and father (who found it very difficult to accept a rapist offspring).  The second half was all about adjustments that were slow  Directed by Lenny Abrahamson.  The novelist, Emma Donoghue wrote the screen play.  It was filmed in Toronto.

"Amira and Sam," is about a returning Iraqi war veteran and an unorthodox Iraqi immigrant. The leading actor is actually a stand-up comic and makes a few political points.  Not so much about the Middle East as about how commercial interests exploit veterans. A nice romantic comedy on the side.

"Ex Machina" with the Alan Turing question on artificial intelligence.  Special effects were innovative.  Dombhell Gleeson and Alicia Vikander were excellent.

"Revanant" earned Leo Di Caprio a well deserved Oscar.  But it is a brutal movie testing what man can survive.

"Bridge of Spies."  Tom Hanks is always an indicator of something worth watching.  Also I found its message to be politically relevant.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/05/bridge-of-spies.html

"Spotlight" represents journalism at its best.  Resources to go up against organizations that are above accountability.  It is scary that such efforts will become rarer in the future.

Watching "Truth" just before one of the big debates.  I was able to appreciate the downfall of Dan Rather in a Facebook posting about the debate.  When truth runs up against power it can get crushed.  Read more here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/10/truth-movie-version.html

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" is told from a juvenile point of view, but gets to the heart of the meaning of life.

"Eye in the Sky" was actually conceived as science fiction, but now there is nothing in it that is not being used today.  It points out the moral dilemma created by drones, that can achieve strategic goals, but always risk collateral damage.  It is not often that a Somalian actor, Barkhal Abdi gets to be a hero.

"Big Short" is confusing, but for the average consumer it is meant to be.  The 2008 Recession did not have to be, but given loose regulations and manipulative investors it was almost inevitable.  Should be seen by all those who think the Republicans have the right solutions.  Enjoyed a cameo by Richard H Thaler, an economic behaviourist I have come to appreciate.  Read more about his views:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/08/misbehaving-making-of-behavioural.html

"Brooklyn," well done, with a story of romance it also showed the immigrant experience including adjustments made, a bit of the melting pot and the benefits to the receiving society.

For me, "The 33" started with a book recommendation from NPR and reading the book "Deep Dark Down."  The next step was as a lover of Andean music I bought some of the movie music.  The movie itself captured much of the complicated human relationships and the tension.

"Inside Out" had been suggested repeatedly by my daughter, Heather.  Finally I watched and can appreciate how unique it is.  Told from a perspective of emotions of a young girl it demonstrated how important emotions are to our decisions.   It reminded me of a book Heather had gifted me about the most important detail of time management was to remember the good and constructive memories.  On the other hand the movie also pointed out the role of less joyful emotions with sadness becoming a key factor in the climax.  The special features detailing how the idea developed was well worth it.

"Citizenfour" about Edward Snowden who impressed me as a very conscientious and intelligent.

"Show me a Hero" is really a tv. mini series that I treated like a movie,  Really gets into local political manoeuvring.  Set in Yonkers, New York.

"Third Person"is easily misunderstood, but really a work of genius by Paul Haggis.  It is meant to be confusing, but if you follow it carefully (more than I usually do) it will be clarified at the end. It is not something I wish to explain as to help it make sense would spoil it, except to say it tries to recreate a writing experience.

"Hunt for the Wilderpeople" was an interesting film from New Zealand.  The star was an overweight young boy, Julian Dennison.

"Inter-Stellar" a major science fiction movie with Matthew Mcconaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain..  Big budget well spent with special effects and a good story.

"Judgment at Nuremberg" has a very high rating and more than met expectations.  Spencer Tracy had the role of someone genuinely trying to understand how the Nazis controlled Germany.  Maximilian Schell was allowed to put forth the German case.  Richard Widmark, Montrgomery Cliff, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland were part of an all star cast and all were very good in their roles.  There was a lot of nuance in this movie that really made it stand out.

A political movie of the same era was "Truman,"  a biography of a great man.
http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/12/truman-vs-today.html

I can only recall one horse movie and it was targeted to children,  "Misty" about the Chincoteague ponies.  One term used in this older movie was "gentling"

Documentaries make you think.  Some that had an impact were "Bitter Honey," which covered polygamy in Indonesia.   The director had taken a long time to build up trust to get both the male and female perspective, but the viewer sympathizes with the women.

"Xmas without China" showed how dependent we are on Chinese goods.  But also gave insight into the feelings of being a Chinese-American.

"Merchants of Doubt " was based on a book regarding how vested interests can twist facts to make them seem uncertain.  Read about the book:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2012/07/merchants-of-doubt.html

"Dawn of Humanity" explored the origins of man in Africa.

"He named me Malala" based on a book I had read, but her personal presence was even more impressive.

"The War Room" was based on Bill Clinton's successful presidential campaign of 1992.  It was interesting to see some tv. political commentators in their relative youth.

"Pompeii:  The Last Day" helped reinforce one of my bucket list items.

"Wings 3D" was a personal indulgence (with my cats) got watch birds from a birds eye view--very impressive

Before I get to the subtitled selections I also saw a classic silent film, "Intolerance" which could also be labelled subtitled, but is different in that to communicate they don't just rely on subtitles.  Much like a stage production they exaggerate many (not all) of their actions and when well done it it not too difficult to read between the lines.  D W Griffith was a pioneer in many respects.  First to shoot a film in Hollywood, popularized close-ups, found new techniques for camera placement and against advice helped develop feature length films.  Highly regarded by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.  "Intolerance" was a very complicated story over three hours long with some interesting music and massive sets and huge casts including extras.  Worth seeing to appreciate how this particular movie helped progress the industry.

                                                 SUBTITLED

A number of Italian movies were watched in appreciation of their role in cinematic history.  One of best films seen this  year was  "Life is Beautiful"  See more at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/04/italian-cinema.html  "The Wonders" appeared at the film festival in Hamilton and is well worth a view.

French films seen included "Samba"with Omar Sy and Charlotte Gainsbourg about immigration.  "Chinese Puzzle" was the third end of "L'Aubergue Espangnole" and "Russian Dolls" trilogy.  Enjoyable cast, Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Kelly Reilly and Cecile de France carried all the way throughout.  Hope they add another.

 "Oscar et la dame Rose" is about a young boy whose parents don't want to tell him that he is dying, but he develops a relationship with someone hired to amuse him and with other patients.  "Dheepan"  was featured at a local film festival and is partly Tamil and French.  Subtle cultural adjustments were well done.

Back in January I watched an Israeli film "The Farewell Party".  It was about an issue filmgoers don't like to think about; euthanasia.  Well done and surprisingly with a lot of laughs.  "Zero Motivations" was based on women soldiers was another interesting Israeli movie.

Iranian speaking actor Peyman Moaadi  in American film, Camp X-ray (based in Guantonamo) with Kristin Stewart.  Earlier watched in in a lesser role  in a Farsi language movie "About Elly" with Taraneh Alidoosti who will appear in "The Salesman," a movie I am looking forward to.  "Taxi" was another undercover film by Jafar Panahi.

Chinese--"What Women Want-"-not recommending it, but opened my eyes to Andy Lau singing+ Li Gong is a treat.  "Ocean Heaven" was first dramatic role for Jet Li, well known martial arts actor  One I would recommend is "The Great Hypnotist"--it has an interesting twist well executed.  "Coming Home" is outstanding  "Mountains May Depart"  "Dearest" was the best--confusing, deals with one child policy, but also abductions which apparently are more common--a tear jerker

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" was mainly Mandarin, set in Shanghai, but lots of English with Hugh Jackman in a small role.  I enjoyed the music by British composer Rachel Portman.  It was a joint U.S. Chinese venture with Chinese actors, but also with a Korean I am just starting to notice, Ji-hyun Jun.  Trying to track down her big hit, "My Sassy Girl."  Wayne Wong, the director commented on some of the language concerns.  Much of the movie was in English, but filming was actually done with Ji-hyun Jun speaking Korean and dubbed in Mandarin with other actors replying in Mandarin.

Browsing through a cart at the Burlington Librrary selling old DVD's at a bargain price chanced upon "Life Express."  It caught my attention as a co-operative effort between China and Taiwan.  Apparently produced from Hong Kong, but set in Beijing and Taipei.  Hong Kong speaks Cantonese while both Beijing and Taipei speak Mandarin.  Unable to tell the difference myself but amazed that the two governments could co-operate in a life and death situation.  The story had more twists than I anticipated.  An earthquake during a marrow extraction with traffic complications was perhaps the most noticeable event, but there were others.  A good production with Taiwanese actors.  Encouraging that despite politics co-operation is still possible.

Bollywood:  "Tamasha" a great movie about story telling set in Corsica and India.   http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/02/tamasha-wonderful-story.html

"15 Park Avenue" from 2005 about mental illness told very credibly  "Sanam teri Kasam"--powerful tear jerker with newcomers in lead   "Kapoor and Sons" a family drama with a noteworthy performance by Rishi Kapoor.

"Neerja" a biography of an air stewardess who saved 359 lives during a hijacking that she didn't survive.  Sonam Kapoor was a good choice for the role.  Shabana Azmi played the mother of the heroine and the actual mother had a small role.

"Fan"restored my faith.  Shah Rukh Khan,the biggest movie star on earth in a revealing portrait--he plays a duo role--an egotistical star plus a pscyho fan much younger.  He is my favourite actor and you can read more about him at:
http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/06/shah-rukh-khan-worlds-most-famous-actor.html  This movie is discussed in part two.

Classic "AAG" from 1948 was the debut for Raj Kapoor as director, producer, writer and lead actor.  It does seem dated, but is amazing what he could do with limited resources.

A low budget film with no stars "Nil Battey Sannata"  focused on education and a mother-daughter relationship.  Testy at times

" a
"Pink" is a revolutionary film really stripping our pretensions of gender equality.  Excellent performances.  Really mind opening  The most noteworthy Bollywood film of the year.  Read more at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/11/pink-sensitive-film-to-deal-with-consent.html

"Airlift" with a big budget drew on the largest airlift in history as Indian citizens fled Kuwait during the Iraq invasion.   Akshay Kumar is getting better roles and is joined here by Nimrat Kaur.  "Rustom" also with Akshay Kumar is a love story under the cover of a murder.  I didn't know what to think of the preview and write-ups, but it turned out to be very good.`````

"Ki  and Ka" received generally poor reviews, but I enjoyed the concept about gender roles and the performance of Kareena Kapoor Khan who has not always been a favourite of mine.

"M.S.Dhoni' was highly recommended, but I expect most were more entranced with cricket than I am.  It seemed like a lot of sports stories.  Yes I do respect cricket a little bit more than before seeing the movie.

"Sultan," widened my appreciation of Salman Khan as well as Anushka Sharma.  Much better than I anticipated with lots of drama and romance as well as wrestling.

Last week of the year I stumbled on "Chillar Party."  I had previously read a bit about and thought it not only a kid's movie, but very childish.  Something read more recently encouraged me to look more closely.  There are lot of adults portrayed in the movie, but really it is a group of mostly boys, apparently around 8 to 10 (or so).  They appear basically fun loving kids, but they run up against political authorities over a stray dog.  They don't understand at first what they are up against, but gradually they figure out a few things.  Each of the young boys are very unique.  A girl added in for their efforts, about 12 gives them some advice and got my attention.  With some inter net searching I realized I had seen her before and she also got my attention then, Shreya Sharma.  She played one of three un co-operative kids in an enjoyable but inappropriate movie.  She was delightful to watch and was the youngster who most seemed to match Rani Mukerji in subtle ways.  Produced by Salman Khan, an actor I have avoided, but recently have come to appreciate has been in some good movies and now realize he has also been a producer.  Another movie of his I had seen was "Dr Cabbie" based in nearby Toronto.

Even more recent watched "Agneepath" which I anticipated would be very violent, which it was, but well done revenge story with one exceptional song sung by Sonnu Niggam.

Korean films are worth exploring.  "A Hard Day" offered black humour and a plot twist.   "Veteran" a comic action tragic combination well done.  "The Beauty Inside" was based on US tv mini series and one writer from "200 Pounds beauty,"  "Hope" is an exceptional movie and one of the very best of the year for me.  Find more at:http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/11/hope-gut-wrenching-film-from-korea.html

The Hispanic film world brought a few interesting movies.  From Argentina "Cautiva,"   "Valetin" and" Todas las Azafatas van al cielo"  From Chile, "Gloria" portrayed an older women and her love life.  From  Mexico,  "Quemar las Naves" was enjoyable.  "Embrace of the Serpent" from Colombia gave a view of natives being invaded by European explores.  "65 of your life" was one from Spain worth watching.,

"7 Anos"  a Spanish film partly financed by Netflix is a very interesting study.  Read more at my most popular blog post of the year of all topics. http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/11/7-anos.html

Ordinary ratings, but "Ma Ma" is a  really a well done feel good movie from Spain, even though it is focused on an impending death.  Penelope Cruz is very attractive in this movie (not just her good looks) and Luis Tozar shows a different character than I am used to.  Also discovered Alberto Iglesias' music who I have heard before, but not appreciated.

The one Swedish movie seen  was "Simon and the Oaks."

From the Dutch I saw "Secrets of War" told from a child's viewpoint on wartime occupation of Holland.  One friend's parents are Nazi sympathizers while another's parents are involved with the Resistence but they do not tell their youngest.  A young girl comes on the scene to complicate matters.  One of the best war movies involving children I have seen.

An early German movie, "The Rabbit is Me" was originally banned in East Germany as it discussed government suppression.

"Difret" was produced in part by Angela Jolie, but used an all Ethiopian cast and written and directed

From Brazil saw two worthy movies.  "The Second Mother"  class dynamics, some localized, but universal

From "Trash" the cinematography and editing were unusually good.   With two American actors, Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara,  an English director Stephen Daldrey it was top notch with great music, both original and borrowed. More at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/10/trash-movie-from-brazil.html

See my thoughts on movies viewed in 2015:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/12/films-that-l-appreciated-in-2015.html

BOOKS I AM GLAD I READ IN 2016

Books are alive and well.  In fact there are far more than we have time to read.  The following are some books I enjoyed.  The impulse came from many different sources including just browsing around library shelves and carts, listening to or watching suggestions on tv, radio or newspapers.  A few were pointed out to me on social media.  My opinion is limited because my scope is limited, but I hope that maybe a spark of interest might direct you to something worthy of your time.  I did read others, but these are the ones I would suggest for your consideration.

I am not picking a best choice for non-fiction as the ones listed all had something valuable to offer.

"The Meaning of Human Existence" and "Half Earth" by E. O. Wilson.  You cannot get much more profound than this.  The author sees religion as trying to provide supernatural explanations for life as we experience it while science is uncovering natural explanations.  Diminising bio diversity should concern us all.  More at http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/11/edward-o-wilson-tackles-meaning-of.html

"The Right Way to Lose a War" by Domenic Tierney took a different view of winning a war--it is not necessarily all victory or all defeat.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/03/the-right-way-to-lose-war.html

Diet books seem to endlessly offer new options which are really variations on old themes. "The Joy of Half a Cookie" is really dealing with the psychology of eating.  One reads a book with good advice then forgets about it.  I am finding some books with good points and am sometimes able to adopt some of the good points at least some or the time.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/03/the-joy-of-half-cookie.html

"Riding Home," pre titled "The Power of Horses to Heal"was first heard about at a trade show I attended.  Most urbanized people dismiss horses as historical or as pets for the rich.  Tim Hayes who did not ride a horse until he reached age 47 found that horses offered people a lot more.  Some examples of the impact of horses were with hardened prisoners and PTSD victims.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/05/the-power-of-horses-to-heal-riding-home.html

"Decisivie" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath contend that with decisions process is more critical than analysis.  Whenever I was faced with a conscious decision I would try to analyze it often using the Ben Franklin method.  The authors develop a more effective strategy.   We all have made millions of decisions to arrive at our current status and if you would like to make decisions that improve your situation this book is a very good place to start.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/08/decisions-are-path-to-success.html

"Focus" by Daniel Goleman who brought us the concept of Emotional Intelligence.  In this book he writes about how the brain is always focused on something, but we can with some effort choose what to focus on.  A bigger point he makes is that it is very easy to focus on some small thing, but we would do better to see the bigger picture and how the one small thing fits in.  More at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/09/focus-is-crucial-for-work-and-play.html

A Rage for Order:  recommended by Fareed Zakaria dealt with the Arab Spring which has had different results in different countries.  There was a lot agreement that conditions were very poor for most of the people, but little agreement on how best to handle.   Religious differences are key with fundamentalism.   Tunisia represents a fragile hope.

"The Ottoman End Game" reminds us that there were other empires in the world and they have influenced today's politics.  More details at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/05/the-ottoman-endgame.html

"Lights Out" delivered another danger to be afraid of:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/02/lights-out-another-unthought-of-danger.html  The acknowledgments is interesting in itself.

"The Reason You Walk" by Wab Kinew native concerns, but universal in dealing with his father's death.

"Dark Money"  there have always been suspicions  If you are concrrned about the recent American election this book suggests the power of money, especially when it can be kept secret.  There are many wealthy people who want to change the rules.  The Koch brothers figure prominently in this book and although they did not take a liking to Mr Trump they apparently now feel they can use him to achieve their ends.  Money is not just used for putting out your message it is used for analyzing how to deal with different targets.

"The Half has Never Been Told" by Edward E. Baptist--slavery is history and we have moved on, but the truth is slavery has impact today.  Even on the recent American election.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/12/the-half-has-never-been-told.html

"Misbehaving"  by Richard H Thaler- disproves the contention that economics is the most rational of the social sciences.  Economic decisions are very much influenced by psychological and social factors.  If you get a chance to watch "The Big Short" you can see a clip of Richard Thaler explaining the 2008 financial crisis to Selena Gomez.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/08/misbehaving-making-of-behavioural.html

"Makers and Takers"  by Rana Foroohar shows how finances developed historically up to the Great Recession of 2008.  Read more at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/10/makers-and-takers.html

"The Wisest One in the Room" hits one of my aspirations.  The wisest man is not quick with answers.  Modern society seems to put a premium on quick answers, but the authors point out that it is not that right answers are so difficult, but that wrong answers are often too easy.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/10/the-wisest-one-in-room.html

"Pandemic"  by Sonia Shah more interesting and easy to read than anticipated.  Modern life gives pandemics more opportunities, however co-operation can make a difference.  a lot of political interference.  An interesting link between sex and immunity.  The blog post on this one is the most read of all my book blogs:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/11/pandemic.html

Despite the relative dearth of fiction books on my list, the truth is well written ones are too engrossing for me.  I am so distracted that the rest of my life including business and household chores are neglected.  E O Wilson pointed out that telling lies is often the best way to express the truth.

"The Illegal" by Lawrence Hill was the author's second winner at Canada Reads.  I also read "Bone and Bread  another selection, but preferred"A Hero's Walk"  by Anita Rau Badami, but they were all enjoyable.  I watched parts of the selection process which is exciting as you see advocates supporting their selection and often analyzing the competition.

I chose to read two library selections; "The Day the Falls Stood Still" and "The Illegal" Both books were selected to focus a whole city's reading, one from Burlington and the other from Hamilton.  Both were enjoyable with opportunities to understand them better.
http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/08/burlington-and-hamilton-libraries.html

"Fifteen Dogs" by AndrĂ© Alexis won the Scotiabank Giller prize.  I actually bought this for my daughter who is a discerning reader who shares ownership of a four legged visitor to my home.  If you are a dog lover you will notice some keen observations.  If you are not you can delve into philosophical questions.  If you are like me you might even know some of the geography.

"Quantum Night" by Robert J Sawyer is as usual full of science, but also philosophy and more than ever politics.  Set mostly in western Canada.

One habit is to read a book by Jane Urquhart and this year, the selection was "Sanctuary Line" which was set in a part of Ontario I have some limited experience in.  Driving through Kingsville and Leamington I was struck by a number of Mexican retailers and eateries and this book helped put that in context.  As usual human relations are her strong point with a few unexpected twists that show we don't always understand how everyone ticks.

"Big Little Lies," by Liane Moriarty first brought to my attention byVijayakumar MK Nair a Facebook friend.   Inner dialogue helps to understand the characters better.  Well constructed.  The first chapter lets you know there is a problem and then the book goes back several months to explain how a group of people were intertwined, then the problem is explained and then a very short followup.  The reader is taken inside the mind of several characters and keeps you guessing as more details fall into place.  This was the most enjoyable fictional read for me of the year .

I felt that many of the non fiction books gave me a useful insight, but do not want to select a best.  For fiction I would have to say the most enjoyable book has been 'Big Little Lies."

Each of us who enjoy reading are confronted by an enormous mountain of books.  I welcome suggestions to help narrow down the choices.   There always has to be a book close at hand.  Right now have started "Homegoing" and also a book on mindfulness and sleep.  "The Vegetarian" is also on list.

To check out the books I enjoyed in 2015 go here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/12/my-best-reads-during-2015.html





Monday, December 26, 2016

HARRY TRUMAN IS MORE APPRECIATED OVER TIME

Recently borrowed the  "Truman" DVD and was inspired by one line to write this post.  "How many times do you have to be hit on the head before you figure out who is hitting you?"  The line came from a train campaign speech in 1948.  He pointed out that after the war there was no recession because they took care of the veterans and others.

The Republicans spend their energy and money telling everyone how awful  the Democrats are.  The facts tell a different story, but most eligible voters don't have the time to understand the real facts.  It is almost always the Democrats that raise employment, lower the debt and boost equality for minorities.  Unfortunately for too many years too many people the Democrats have  been associated with a dirty word--"liberal."  Liberal has come to mean favouring socialism which somehow translates to a dictatorship.  Those who want to cut regulations certainly see Democrats as potential dictators.

Corruption forms the base of getting elected.  Truman tries to avoid it, but then ends up making deals and finally walking away, before being lured into more public service.  Gets elected to the U.S. Senate just before the bombardment of Pearl Harbour.  He is chosen to lead some queries against corruption with war contracts.

He attempts to not being nominated as Vice-President, but is shamed into it by Franklin Roosevelt.  The war is not yet over and Truman becomes president upon the death of Roosevelt.  Truman was never considered a great president during his term in office, but now is much more admired.

He is famous for posting "the buck stops here" on his desk.    The war was still on and it fell to Truman to make some difficult decisions.  He had a desire to understand and to avoid excuses. They were never lightly made and studied over before being made.

Perhaps the biggest decision was to use the atomic bomb.  Easy to criticize now, but then he had the weight of tens of thousands of expected American deaths and wanted to end the war sooner.

Unlike many other conquerors Truman saw the need to rehabilitate both the enemies and allies that fought in Europe and Asia.  The Marshall Plan was truly unique and is responsible for today's relations with Europe.  NATO was also initiated under the Truman administration.

After consulting with one of his home state friends he decided to support the State of Israel.

Civil rights were in a sorry state and Truman from Missouri was very conscious of it.  The Democrats  were dependent on the southern white vote, but Truman took steps to advance blacks, particularly in the military.

The Korean War caught Americans off guard, but he managed to get an international alliance to fight off the Communists.  General Douglas MacArthur was a war hero and had accomplished a brilliant manoeuvre over the Korean enemy, but  soon over drew his authority and endangered diplomatic concerns.  He was loved by American people, but many insiders felt he had to go.  Truman was offended by what he saw as arrogance.  In the movie it showed that Truman's mother-in-law was upset that Truman was considering firing the hero.  Truman did dismiss MacArthur who was more popular than himself.

Anti-Communist hysteria was developing headed most noticeably by Joe McCarthy.  Truman felt he was a liar, but recognized he was popular.  In the movie someone tried to hand him some embarrassing evidence and he was told that the information could be distributed without being tied to the presidency.  Truman not wanting deniability put an end to scheme to stop McCarthy, feeling that the truth would eventually come out.  He didn't want to dirty the office of President.

He left with an approval rating of 32% and no White House pension or Secret Service protection.   As time went by he was appreciated as one of the better Presidents.  My father had given me a book about Truman several decades ago and I was struck by the characterization that he was a plain speaker.

Like Obama, Truman presented an understated dignity.  It is depressing to think how misleading blustery behaviour is favoured by voters who have not really examined the issues.  "Truman" was a good reminder of decency and a true public servant.  I believe the public will look back on Obama as an under appreciated lost opportunity.

Gary Sinise who played Truman was said by  reviewers to have  studied mannerisms and projected a realistic portrayal.  The movie lasted a little over two hours and was very effective at covering the important moments of his life.  Archival films are used to bring out the feelings of the time.  Colm Ferore, an actor familiar to Canadians played a key role as a Truman confidante. Directed by Frank Pierson who has been involved producing, writing or directing with some popular tv series including Mad Men (not seen); "The Good Wife" and one I used to watch with my father, "Have Gun will Travel."  Tom Rickman adapted David McCullough's novel.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD

Most of us whites think of slavery as history with no significant consequences today.  But slavery shaped America in ways most citizens are unconscious of with a very definite impacts today.  Edward E Baptist has done a scholarly job of uncovering the real story.

Eight Presidents were slave owners helped by a Constitituion that counted slaves as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of electing members to the House of Representatives which in turn gave slave states more leverage in the Electoral College.  This is the same electoral college that has enabled Donald Trump to win the recent election, even though he trailed Hilary Clinton by well over 2 million votes.  Southerners forced the capital to move to newly created District of Columbia to be closer to them.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 is treated as a clever manoeuvre by Thomas Jefferson, but it was more complicated.  In 1793 in the colony of St-Domingue the most successful of all slave revolts started.  Until 1799, under the leadership of Toussaint L'ouverture they fought off British infantry units. By 1800 Napoleon was in control of France and he wanted to restore monarchy.  He sent 50,000 soldiers to St-Dominque, better known as Haiti, but they too were defeated.  He had planned to send another army of 20,000 soliders to take back New Orleans, but ended up diverting them to Haiti where they too were defeated.  To cut his losses he offered a bargain price for Lousiaina

Further to that, many French landowners, including sugar specialists migrated to New Orleans.  They brought some slaves with them, but wanted more.  Northerners had a delicate balance.  They did not want southern slave states to gain more political leverage, but some were invested in the slave trade.  The Mississippi Valley was now open to slavery.  Louisiana became a (slave) state in 1812.

The industrial Revolution really gained traction in northern England and the first significant product was cotton textiles. After the invention of a cotton gin in 1790 it unclogged a bottleneck in the process. They could sell as much as they could make and so they wanted more raw material.  America was expanding and had lots of land and cheap labour.  America by 1819 controlled the world's export market for cotton.

It is thought that machines are more efficient than manual labour, but in fact for quite a while human labour increased its efficiency faster than machines.  The secret was whips and violent calculated intimidation.  Just before the Civil War records were set for picking cotton and this became critical for economic growth.

Separation of families was seen as an economic decision.  Men were bought for particular needs, usually a wife not needed.  Women without children can work without their distraction.  Brothers and sisters were split as new buyers wanted one or the other, but not  both.  Men were called "boys" and whipped to humiliate them.  Men and women would form relationships and have them broken up and then form new relationships.  Thomas Jefferson once declared that separation from loved ones mattered little to the Africans.

Sex was a lure for many men buying female slaves.   Many women were bought for sex often being stripped at auctions.  Mulattos were one result.

Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans was also an Indian fighter and slave owner.  He pushed Indian tribes (about 50,000 individuals) off lands that allowed expansion of cotton and slave labour.  Texas belonged to Mexico, but American settlers moved in bringing slaves and after celebrated military actions were able to claim a large amount of land, in fact the third largest annexation in American history.  Slave owners saw this as a new opportunity.

Cuba  despite laws supposed to stop slave trade across the Atlantic imported 700,000.  Cuba became the biggest sugar producer in the world.  Southern slave owners were interested in Cuba as a source, but more to expand their leverage politically

Finance developed through the cotton trade.  English manufacturers needed material and farmers needed money to produce cotton.  Slaves were useful as collateral.  Bonds were sold to northern states and Europeans with in effect slaves securitized.

The northern states developed manufacturing, stepping in with tariff protected cotton (England still did higher end textiles) and that led to supplying the south with such things as shovels, hoes, shoes, axes (using for clearing forests for farming).  They developed symbiotic relations with the southern slave owners and this led to sympathetic political arrangements.  Southerners were concerned about their property rights and demanded the right to have escaped slaves returned to their owners.

There was northern resentment of slavery and political forces to restrict it development.  Demographics changed over time with most European immigrants settling in the north and fearing competition from cheap labour.  The northern states could count the new immigrants as 5/5 of a person and gained control of Congress.  Southern slave owners were fearful of losing control and convinced the poorer whites that they needed to protect state rights, claiming if the north could impose equality of races, the whites would lose their status.  The author is quick to point out that the war was not for state rights, but to maintain slavery.  It seems one political party still uses similar tactics to convince large numbers to vote against their economic self interest.

After the Civil War blacks gained some freedom, but it wasn't long before the whites reasserted their dominance.  Blacks had no accumulated wealth and soon had to contend with segregated schools and a range of Jim Crow laws.  In truth the situation was not much better in the north

A consolation and a form of communication for African slaves was music.  Their music was borrowed by whites and now is an integral part of American culture and spread around the globe.

There are many details that prove that slavery was critical to the development of American capitalism and created a culture of distrust, fear and continuing damage.  There is still much room for improvement.

The author, Edward E Baptist had a thought provoking response to a review of the book by the Economist magazine that puts the situation in a relevant context.  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/07/economist-review-my-book-slavery

As a Canadian it is easy to be self-righteous, but it turns out that George Tuckett  a former mayor of my home city, Hamilton made a fortune by cornering the tobacco market in Virginia during the American Civil War.  He had a warehouse in Lynchberg, Virginia and was allowed to go back and forth because he was a Canadian.  I learned that his home originally known as the Tuckett Mansion is in my opinion the most interesting building in town, now known as the Scottish Rite building.  Thanks to Robin McKee.