Wednesday, June 21, 2017

ARE PEOPLE CATCHING ON TO TRUMP?

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 by 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 take advantage of an opportunity to listen to Gwynne at my local library. http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/04/gwynne-dyer.html   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, http://gwynnedyer.com

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Underground Railroad

We have all heard of the underground railroad, but weren't too sure what it really was.  My understanding is that it was really a network of volunteers guiding escaped slaves up north to freedom.  I once visited a black museum in Amherstburg, Ontario where they commemorated escaping over the river that separated Canada from The United States.

The book, which won a 2017 Pulitzer prize really uses the concept of an actual underground railroad as a vehicle to tell a story and make some points.  The railroad is dug out where whites cannot see and uses conductors.  This allows a series of stops and side stories.  Whites are aware of the underground railroad, but for some it is just a figure of speech.

One point in a short side story was about body snatchers in Boston.  Medical students are required to disect dead bodies which were in short supply.  One depicted body snatcher discovered that if he grabbed dead negro bodies there would be no fuss, unlike with some white bodies with loud self-righteous relatives.  A more relevant point was that the students realized that black bodies were the same as white bodies, thus attaining a sort of equality.  Some Africans were conscious that the whties had stolen land from the native Indians, but in this book at least there was almost no interaction.

At the African beginning and also during American transfer of slaves was that slavers were careful not to spread language facility by mixing different language speakers.  Slaves were not to be taught reading.

Whites range from cold hearted cruel owners detached from the reality of what they are doing to the guilt ridden to do-gooders to the fearful.  Slave catchers are a big part of the story as they get paid to retrieve escaped slaves.  For many it is just a job.

Many of the slaves are accepting of their fate and fearful of change.  One young black boy orphaned and fearful becomes a helper to a slave catcher.  Mulattoes also appeared in the story and although they were usually treated like slaves, they did enjoy some privileges that resulted in ambiguous relationships with other slaves.

There was real fear concerning what the slaves could do if they got free.  In fact education was a concern as a weapon against whites.  Abolitionists could be punished if circumstances allowed as they could precipitate a rebellion.

To many white Americans this is all history and they do not think of it much and certainly don't feel it is much of an excuse for poor behaviour today.   The Holocaust also fades in memory and we also need to remind ourselves the effects do indeed carry on, despite our loss of consciousness.

Earlier read "Underground Railway" by Ben H. Winters  which was really an extension of earlier conditions with the adjustment that the Civil War never happened.  America evolved without the violent disruption.  The author was really suggesting that slavery could have survived if Lincoln failed to make it to the White House after his election.  Read more: http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/02/underground-airlines.html

The key link in both books was that de-humanizing of people was an outcome of ignorance and greed.  Once de-humanizing had progressed enough, cruelty was a tool to benefit other humans (investors).  As both books make plain as someone once said, for evil to prevail it only required many to stand by and watch.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Predictabilty

Donald Trump likes to project himself as unpredictable supposedly making him a better negotiator.  There might be some logic to that, but really it is more complicated.

In the world of sports we root for our team, but would soon lose interest if the outcome was totally predictable.  As a youngster I enjoyed watching my home town lacrosse Oshawa Green Gaels win pretty well every game I saw by a large margin.  I still appreciated the skills involved, but it became increasingly boring to watch.  Taping live events and watching later has the danger of spoilers.  Concern over the outcome is part of the excitement.

Movies and television shows are determined before we decide to let them entertain us.  We all have preferences, but over time these preferences can be modified.  Sometimes the ending can be fulfilling, other times you feel cheated and other times mystified.  Surprises can do all those things.  Do you like happy endings?  Do we predict a mood from how it is resolved.   IMDB values its readers enough to insist upon spoiler alerts.  Awhile back I did a post of movies from both a producer and consumer perspective.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2012/09/predictability-and-enjoyment-of-movies.html

The stock market doesn't like surprises and will often react very quickly on a rumour, but sometimes can be rereassured.  Smart investors are those who buy low and sell high.  A panic can put prices down very quickly.  Euphoria can put prices up unrealistically high.

Our lives are consumed mostly by habits and routine.  You get up, go to work or school for so many hours eventually getting off to enjoy some familiar activities.   Family and friends for the most part are supportive and reliable.  Disrupt that routine and we can become anxious or even depressed.  Long term we anticipate many of life's milestones with many being looked forward to and a few maybe dreaded.

It is true that being unpredictable can throw off your opponents.   Sometimes pleasant unexpected events can boost our spirits and make us more agreeable.  You do better if you can accurately predict the reaction of those you interact with.  Some people avoid confrontation and although one might think they have been defeated, the collateral damage can be unpredictable.  Good will has to be earned.

Who do you trust?  Someone who surprises you, not always in a positive way.  Someone who offers very few surprises?  Would you say trust is a big part of negotiating?  When the unpredicted happens who do you trust?

The photo comes from a performance by Circus Orange.  I predict they will put on a good show, but they manage to find a way to do something unpredictable every time I am lucky enough to see them.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Gwynne Dyer

Last nite was a special unexpected treat for me.  Gwynne Dyer is my favourite newspaper columnist and I don't say that as an isolated newspaper reader.  I enjoy the columnists for the New York Times and Washington Post amongst others, but Gwynne has impressed me the most.  Somehow he appeared at my local library, Hamilton Public Library.  He did not disappoint.

Trying to figure out what makes him different, the library CEO explained his interest came from noticing the mainstream news did not cover the developing world in any depth, except Gwynne Dyer did.  Although he has a very strong military background (has taught at military colleges and traveled more than most) he has an awareness of political dynamics that is well beyond most.  That also means he understands human dynamics.  The first of the so-called political pundits who recognized the seriousness of climate change.  As a fellow Canadian he realized that although the Western world was dominant it wasn't the only factor in the global affairs.

The topic was Donald Trump, a subject that seems to be on everyone's mind.  Gwynne admitted several times he didn't like him and originally, back in November thought Americans could not be that dumb.  Based in London he also thought the Brits would not be dumb enough to exit the EU.   After interviewing countless people he has evolved his thinking to the point he thinks Donald Trump might be the wake up call needed.

One difference he explained was that immigration was a  bigger issue in Britain as they were not as used to immigrants unlike United States (and Canada) where most of us are at best a few generations from immigrants ourselves.  Ironically where immigrants are well established in the big cities there was not a strong backlash against them, but in other areas they were one of the key factors.

In America a more serious problem was jobs.  He said official stats are misleading, the true unemployment is much higher in the United States.  The problem is not only one of finance, but also of humiliation.  It is easy to blame outsourcing and immigrants, but Gwynne maintains by far the bigger factor is automation and it will continue to get worse.  Unless something is done he sees anger deciding elections.  The anger could result in someone worse than Donald Trump who he sees like a canary in the coal mine.  One bit of humour (of many instances) was that in twenty years something like 50% of jobs will fall to automation.  He suggested that pole dancing would not.

One possible solution to the dilemma is a universal basic income.  The world is not ready just yet.  He related an experience in Switzerland where the attempt through a referendum failed, was explained as a necessary first step.  He thinks that since the election more people are talking about universal basic income.

His speech was relatively short, but the question period was very interesting.  He handled it brilliantly, giving people a chance to speak their mind.  Korea, Syria were covered with realistic answers.  One of the organizers had to help close the questions or I suspect he would have carried on.

One guest recalled  a talk given at Sir Wilfred Laurier University around 1996 and asked if he had changed his mind.  First he joked that he thought he had had everyone at that talk killed.  He admitted that he might have changed a bit, but that most of his core beliefs are the same

Another guest asked about how inequality is increasing and he foresees that mankind will revert to what most of its history with dictators ruling over the poor masses.  Gwyne reverted back to hunter-gatherer days when there was much more equality, but then when mankind got civilized  more decisions were made top down, because there was relatively poor communication.  The great salvation today is that  there is mass communication.

On another question he commented that the right contained some smart rich people (the ones who earned their money, not those who inherited it) who could easily see that for them to be rich they need customers and they need to avoid a revolution.   One of the big concerns about Universal basic income is if those receiving it will be motivated to do the still necessary work.  He mentioned that  Hamilton is one of three Ontario cities  that will experiment among poor and will help determine a future course.

Gwynne felt that one of the best hopes for the future was international alliances.  One factor with the formation of the EU was to avoid future wars amongst the European powers and it worked with many other benefits.  Recent developments have restored some of his faith after the Brexit  and Trump disasters.  The United Nations has also been successful in avoiding wars between the big powers.

He also suggested we should encourage Michelle Obama to run for president in 2020.

I met some good friends, Rob and  Sue and learned we have something in common.  Gwynne's column is the first thing they look for in the local paper.

If you are not accessible to one of the 100 or so newspapers around the world that carry his twice weekly columns you can check him out at his webiste:  http://gwynnedyer.com

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

HOMO DEUS

Yuval Noah Harari has written two books that analyze where humankind has come from (://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/12/sapiens-brief-history-of-humankind.html) and  where we might go.  Thank goodness it is told with some humour because it is really very deep.  It delves into what makes us who we are.  You will be challenged to study yourself.  There are so many interesting insights in this book, but I can only highlight a few.

Analyses present realities, but always taking into account evolution that brought us here.  For example he points out that revolutions tend to be taken over by those previously close to power such as in Romania and even more recently in Egypt.  Coming through evolution is that humans have the advantage of organizing over all other life and those already organized have the advantage over the rest of humans.  Terrorists are too weak to use conventional methods, but the biggest danger is to over-react which is normally a part of the political process.

Looking to the future he sees that now humankind is now able to view death as a technical problem, rather than a religious concern.  As we conquer one disease after another and go deeper into the root causes of aging we develop newer strategies.

Increasingly we view ourselves as the centre of the universe and the author notes that wildlife has been halved while domestic animals have multiplied and are more cruelly treated.  People are said to have souls, but animals do not.  Evolution takes away the concept of souls for humans.  New Zealand became the first nation (May 2015) to declare animals as sentient beings.

Cognitive revolution came when humans took advantage of their superior intelligence and began to organize on a bigger scale.  The process started about 70,000 years ago

Agricultural Revolution began about 12,000 years ago and allowed for concentrations of people and specialization.   Writing, invented by Sumerians 5,000 years ago allowed elites to control larger numbers of people and it might be said started data processing.

The Science Revolution started around 1500 and was initiated by the awareness of our ignorance.  Today we realize there is so much we don't know, but we are progressing at ever accelerating rates.

Trust is another key to success.  The best example is the credit system which has enabled economic expansion that has benefited everyone.

DNA analysis is now available and becoming more affordable.  At this stage is often used to determine disease probabilities.  Manipulating genes is well established and likely to fine-tuned.

The big question for me is free will.  The author cites several examples that demonstrate there is something behind every acton.  Where do desires come from?  My advice is that to live the best life you must use whatever resources are available and take responsibility for every decision.  Yuval points out that Buddhist thinking is that cravings always lead to suffering.

As we are all algorithms and we can easily be replaced.

Yuval point out that Google and Facebook know more about us that many people around us.  Dataism is a new religion that will take over the world.  Anything that can be measured (they believe that is everything) can be used to make decisions.  It is likely that a very small elite would emerge in power while the rest of us for practical purposes would be thought of as useless.

The author admits nobody knows what the future will bring, but after laying out some possibilities he leaves us with three questions that will decide the future of humankind.

1. Are organisms really just algorithms and is life really just data processing?
2.  What is more valuable--intelligence or consciousness?
3. What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious, but highly intelligent
algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?

The two of his books I have read have been amongst the most profound ever.  To learn more about Yuval Noah Harari, visit http://www.ynharari.com

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Content Trap

Getting ahead in the world seems like wading through a never ending swirl of new trends.  Research and analysis tries to keep up with developments.  As Bharat Anand started this book he predicted life would change during the process.  He was surprised that a project he became involved with forced him to adopt some of the book's thinking

In a world with relentless pressures and seemingly never ending technical innovations the author identifies two basic problems:  1).  getting noticed and 2). getting paid.  If you aren't different in business you will die.  The value of this book is a a deeper understanding of future business basics.

Traditionally advertisers have paid for the dissemination of information.  Now there is free information, including ads on the inter-net  Many newspapers are out of business because many people find it more cost effective to advertise on line.

Schibsted, a publishing firm in Norway illustrates it is possible to take a print newspaper and convert to a very prosperous online entity.  In South Africa, the Occar Pretorious shooting happened between press deadlines forcing the owners of one firm with an opportunity for a scoop to first present story online.  This forced them to change their focus.

Connectivity is the key factor.  User connectivity, product connectivity and function connectivity.  Schibsted asks 'how can we help our readers to help each other."  The strength of a network is its connectivity.

It is fixed costs that make upscaling so profitable.  Walmart always credited for tough bargaining with suppliers, but they are variable costs.  Other moves they made include rural locations, clustering, reduce advertising.  These steps reduced fixed costs.

Most consumers resent the bundling cable channels.  The author contends there are benefit for both providers and consumers.  The practice keeps the costs down as individual channels would have to have a higher price.  The consumer gets lower costs for their choices while the provider reduces fixed costs.

One fact hit me--You Tube offers their viewers a chance to skip watching an ad, but it is only after 3 seconds which is required in order to charge an advertiser.

Complementary items increase each others value and are an example of function connectivity.  At one time a CD was an ad for a concert, but now the price of obtaining music is cheap while concert tickets are more expensive.  The Michelin system for evaluating restaurants was originally intended to encourage people to drive more.

David Ogilvy:  "Information about the product is more important than persuading the consumer with adjectives."

Competition advantage ultimately comes from scarcity and differentiation.  Managing the two is the key to digital success.  Many examples are given how some companies stumbled or sometimes planned for better connections to demonstrate their value.

While in the midst of this book Bharat was asked to help design online courses for the Harvard Business School (where he was a professor).  Stumbling around he realized that students learn best when they engage with others.  Borrowing from concepts learned writing the course encouraged students to interact.  We all connect with others in ways not previously thought possible.

To get some more insights from Bharat visit:  https://www.entrepreneur.com/author/bharat-anand

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

La Derniere Fugue

Movies try to replicate life, however for many of us they are escapes from life.   "La Derniere Fugue," a Quebec movie released in 2010 wasn't pre planned for me, but just a time filler to keep up my pace of watching movies.  Getting into it woke me up.  This really was not only life and death, but somewhat about the meaning of life.

It begins with a Christmas family around the dinner table with parents sitting down and kids running around.  The head of the family, the grandfather has Parkinson's, with trouble speaking and feels shunted aside.   He is not supposed to eat dessert or a lot of special Christmas items.  He loses his temper, falls down and causes a lot of embarrassment.    He mocks one of his daughters who is going through menopause causing her to leave the table.  Another couple are bickering.  A teenage grandson talks with his father and says he would like to help grandpa to die.  At first it seems poorly thought out and disrespectful.  Over the course of the movie he conspire with his father who carries resentment and guilt.

A series of flashbacks with a different set of actors helps to put things in context.  One episode is remembered bitterly by the son whose father pushed him aside into the water when he was about to catch a large fish.  The father took credit for it.  Later we learned the father (the grandfather) confessed to his wife and expressed regret, but never brought up to his son.  Many of us parents have done things we regret to our children and now rationalize that we are more mature now.

In many of the flashbacks we see the younger grandfather playing the piano and spouting off a wide range of scientific facts to his children.  Back to the current time the one son talks that his father was too smart for what he had to do to make a living and had to keep quiet.

The grownup children talk to their mother with the idea they should put their father in a home.  They appreciate their mother is exhausted.  The one son and his son talk to the grandmother and tell her they want to make it easier for the grandfather to die.  They have in mind letting him eat what he really enjoys.  Early in the movie they give him some forbidden potato chips and emergency ambulance is called in only to realize he was only choking.  She defends her husband and says, (paraphrasing) he doesn't really want to die because even though they are good Catholics they fear that after death there is nothing.

After a humiliating physiotherapy session the Grandfather says he wants to die.  His wife and son and grandson set out to make his last days as enjoyable as possible.  He explains about favoured foods and above all wants to go fishing back at the lake he remembers.  At what would be one of his last meals the family is recalled and on this occasion one of his son-in-laws explodes and says he is leaving his wife.  Then they are all told the grandfather knows he is going to die soon and welcomes it.  You might guess the gist of how it ends, but you will miss a lot of details.

Another line got my attention.  Youngsters are always trying to figure how their elders ever got together and what it was like.  The grandson asks if they ever French-kissed.  The Grandmother laughs and says "of course.  What a silly question?"

Animals appear in a lot of movies and are specially trained for their role.  Fish played a critical role in this move and I marvel at the effort that must have occurred to help move the plot.

Lea Pool directed and co-wrote the script.  She was born in Switzerland and many of her films seem to have Swiss backing or characterization.  Many of her films have won international awards, such as "Emporte-Moi," "Le demoiselle savage," "La Passion d'Agustine" and "Lost and Delerious," none of which I have seen.  One I saw was in English, "The Blue Butterfly" which also won awards.   I have already reserved a few of her films.

Gil Courtemanche, co-wrote  from his novel, had been a journalist and television host--Investigated the Rwanda genocide and wrote ""Un dimanche a la piscine a Kigali" which won the French version of Canada reads and was also turned into a movie.  Died in 2011 after this movie.

The title refers to some piano music that the protagonist was playing.  I recognized two tunes form Bach that I enjoy.

The Grandfather was played by Jacques Godin and he made you feel uncomfortable and embarrassed for his family.  I had seen him in a forgotten move released in 1964, "The Luck of Ginger Coffey."

The grownup son was played by Yves Jacques who I had been seen in one French movie with Audrey Tautou, "Therese" and two Quebec movies, "The Barbarian Invasion" and "Jesus of Montreal" (1989)   Some of you might have seen him in "The Aviator" or "Grace of Monaco," but I missed both of them.

The Grandmother was played by Andree Lachapelle who was also in "Jesus of Montreal."  Also appeared in "Leolo" and "La Passion d'Augustine."

The grandson who conspired to give his grandfather an enjoyable death was played by Aliocha Schneider in only his second movie.  After this he has become busy with tv series and a few more movies.  Aliocha had a deft touch displaying a deep concern for his grandfather, but also able to have fun.

Not everyone will enjoy this movie, but there are light moments as well as life and death decisions.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

OLD AGE, A BEGINNER'S GUIDE

That book title sounds innocent, perhaps even helpful.  At my age I thought it might give a few hints on how to get more out of life.  Well it does, sort of,  but it is really philosophical and pointed at dealing with the human avoidance of our inevitable death.  Michael Kinsley will make you laugh a bit while you ponder the bigger questions of life.  Just to be clear most readers would consider his humour on the black side, but like good humour it hits a point.

Michael, himself  learned  at a relatively young age (23 years prior to this book) he had Parkinson's which he thinks of as an early signal for his own mortality forcing him to think ahead.  He was fairly successful  as a journalist and editor for such media platforms as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Slate, Harper's and The Economist.  We all tend to not think of our inevitable death, but as we age it becomes harder to ignore and some of us are hit with a fatal disease that sharpens your focus.

When we wake up to the end, we have three choices:  denial, acceptance and confrontation.  Michael feels acceptance is no strategy.  He mostly opts for denial with the concept that his disease will have minimal impact on his life.  He admires those who choose to confront.  He chooses to take a humorous perspective.

One bumper sticker, "he who dies with the most toys wins" is contrasted with "you can't take it with you."  In the end possessions are cast aside as not being the ultimate goal.

Having increasingly noticed that longevity is often accompanied with dementia, many people would  amend their future hopes.  Cognition becomes identified as what we want to hold onto as long as possible and when it is diminished so is our life value.  Outside the book, I am reminded of a Pacific Island where they view Alzherimer-like diseases differently.  The victims are often happy and in all cases relatively oblivious of reality.  Maybe they are better off and although we fear becoming that way, the real problem is the extra concern and labour of the care givers.  No one wants to be a burden, but maybe it is an easier exit if one is unaware of it.

As I am a very small fund raiser for Parkinson's I was interested in some given information.  Side effects are often overlooked, but include for some patients, depression, bad skin, insomnia and a gambling compulsion.  I had heard of deep brain stimulation that gives relief to some, but didn't realize it was performed while the patient is conscious.  The author advocates stem cell research.  He is well aware that his body and mental faculties are declining.  Told by one doctor that he would lose his "edge," Michael was very conscious that his success had hinged on his "edge."

Another concern is for our reputation.  Although his Parkinson's disease has been proceeding slowly Michael has noticed that people assume he is not quite as bright as he once was or as capable and tests confirm this notion.  Reputation, or better still fame seems a worthy goal.  He runs through a lists of dominant people in different fields and concludes that most are not remembered.  Jane Austen was not famous at her death, but about 75 years afterwards with the help of relatives her fame began to arise.  Earlier in the book he relates an account with Robert McNamara in his 80's admittedly making amends for his role in the Vietnam disaster, something the author points not everyone gets to do.

Another goal associated with impending death is to leave a legacy  As a boomer he has a lot of criticism for his own group, deferring to what he thinks was a more deserving group--the ones who fought WW II.  There is a lot about how greedy each generation can be, but hard to deny the previous generation did something noble.  He ends on a political note, about how he thinks we boomers should leave a legacy.  He thinks we have spent our government into unimaginable debt and that the estate taxes should be revived to reach more people, not just the filthy rich.

Fortunately for us who are only vaguely aware of what happens at the end of old age, Michael has retained some of his edge and we are the better for it.

Mostly acknowledgements are skipped, even for an enjoyable read, but this is truly unique and humorous.  He thanks a long list of his doctors for allowing him to live long enough to write the book,

To read about another angle on death, the disposal of dead bodies, http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/04/death-is-natural-but-disposal.html

Friday, March 10, 2017

HILLBILLY ELEGY

Hillbillies are a much maligned group.  I remember that calling someone a hillbilly was an insult.  Like other groups they are not monolithic, but do share some common characteristics.  J.D. Vance has in some ways escaped the trap, but in a type of memoir he captures a portrait of hillbillies.

As a youngster his family moved from Kentucky to Ohio and he spent part of his life going back and forth partly due to the migration of hillbillies north, but more tied to his family changes.  His mother offered a number of husbands and boyfriends and although J.D. got along with most of them, he knew not to get too attached.  His grandmother and his sister were his salvation.

Fighting was very common.  The author's Grandmother advised him on fighting and took pride not only for winning, but for standing up.  His mother got into fighting with her husbands and boyfriends and eventually became addicted to drugs.  J.D. went from one family setting to another.

His mother once asked for his urine so she could pass a test.  He self righteously rejected her and afterward confessed he thought there might be a trace of marijuana in his urine.  Drugs and alcohol were a part of the culture.  Religion is intense for some, but lackadaisical for others.   The author had experience with a group that was more upset about social concerns than doing anything neighborly or unselfish.  A lack of impulse control was common and reinforcing.

Joined the Marines and after boot camp had a new perspective on life.  One change was his attitude towards food which he then saw as important for a better life.  With a little more focus he went to Ohio State and then to Yale Law School.  At Yale he became more conscious of class distinctions.  Met his wife Usha who helped give him a wider perspective.  Being a university student led to being introspective.   One his professors was Amy Chua who advised and encourged him.  Read more about her writing at http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/03/triple-package-useful-study-in-group.html

J.D. talked of people on welfare mocking those who worked and barely scraped by.  This attitude the author feels is a major factor why Appalachia switched to Republicans.   As industry moved out many were reluctant to move and found themselves with houses not worth what was owed on them.  For those not on welfare saw those that were as dragging them down.  I read elsewhere the J.D. considers himself a Republican, but did not vote for Donald Trump.

The book is very gritty and he recounts that his mother felt hurt by parts of it and a sister disputed his sequence of events.  Consider it a close up look at a group that has a lot of influence, but has been basically misunderstood.

Nancy Isenberg in "White Trash" provided some insight to the Appalachian whites, http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/02/white-trash.html

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Two Round Elections: Food for Thought

We are often hearing about two round elections, in Europe and elsewhere.  It would seem they must be more expensive and certainly more time consuming.  There must be some advantage to the notion.  Perhaps the idea is worth looking into.

A good example of the merits might be the recent American election.  No candidate received 50% of the vote.  Many voters wanted to register their preference for third party candidates, some actually in protest.  It is hard to believe that many Green party voters really wanted Donald Trump to win, but at the same time it seems likely that few Libertarian voters would have preferred Hillary Clinton to win.  Each side cannot accept the other.

In other systems such as Canada and the United Kingdom the most powerful official is decided by locally elected members, often to the party that won only a plurality of voters.  At least in the US. it is possible for one party to locally elect members of Congress while the president is of a different party which in itself is check on power abuse.

Many political parties adopt a system that assures only a candidate that obtains 50% +1 is declared the leader of that party.  After the first round there is almost always some soul searching and attempts to build a coalition among like minded voters.  In the end everyone can acknowledge that the winner is at least acceptable to the true majority and the minorities for the most part accept the decision.

Not sure what happens when in a national election there are 4 or more candidates and they all receive similar results.  From the party elections we know it is not always one from the top 2 of the first round that prevails, but if there are more than 2 rounds the expense and time consumption go up.

When the stark reality of only two candidates left with neither being totally satisfactory it becomes evident people are forced to give the matter more thought.

I still believe local issues need representation, but that when power is concentrated at the national level it is preferable to give voters a chance to focus on different concerns.

One pitfall is that some people vote strategically--by that I mean will vote for a third party that will have the impact of denying another party a final round or they forego the third party and vote for their second choice.  It might even out and in any case you do get choose between the two survivors.

An educated voter is crucial to a democracy.  The system needs to support them as much as practical. Perhaps we in North America can take a closer look at how other jurisdictions handle elections.  Elections are a vital part of democracy.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

POLITICS AS ENTERTAINMENT

For many, politics is very boring.  Some will pay some attention during an election campaign and some think it is a waste of time.

A few of us don't think it is boring.  It is both about life and death and it does affect everyday life.  It does get buried in details.  What gets me excited is the power struggle between good and evil and the manipulation of minds.

Power is less based on merit, but more on marshalling social forces.  Decisions likewise often bear little resemblance to civic good.  Manipulation is becoming more scientific--not only do they develop a message, but it is targeted.  Under our present system it is not necessary to get 50%+1 so by accumulating niches that add up to enough to be first past the post you can win an election.

Money plays a big role, but surprisingly is not always decisive.  Part of my interest is similar to  basketball when the little guy overcomes the big guy.  Sometimes the less financed contender also overcomes the better financed, but usually the underdog is such for powerful logical reasons.

Most politicians say things they don't believe and reluctantly advocate for causes as part of a package.  The best example is climate denialists, most of whom are well educated, but also know where their campaign funds come from.  They can bury their statements amongst other more appealing agendas.

Celebrity worshipping  "Dallas" glorified power manipulation and adultery.  Getting away with it was entertaining.  "House of Cards" drew a lot of attention, even Barrack Obama admired the machinations. Donald Trump's most famous line "You're fired"would devastate in person, but somehow seems tough. making us wish we had as much grit.

Not all political junkies share the same philosophy.  Some like the conservative agenda which boils down to the freedom of entrepreneurs.  They appreciate that social conservatism can be tied into the package and make victory possible.  check, http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/10/social-conservatism-is-pivotal.html  Others like myself feel those in power are stacking the deck against everyone else and that leads to a lot of unhealthy responses.  We think the "good guy" would win if more people realized the merits of the cause.  On either side are some who feel compromise is necessary while others feel it is to be avoided.  There are different consequences at the end of all this political manoeuvrings.

Boring?  Definitely not!

Friday, February 24, 2017

ANTONIA'S LINE

"Antonia's Line" (just"Antonia" in the original Dutch) won the Oscar as best foreign film of 1995 and a lot of other awards including a People's Choice award at TIFF.  It is well worth a view for its quality and uniqueness.  Dutch movies aren't so easily accessible as other foreign films, but they do go for quality.

Just as you are getting settled in your seat you will quickly realize this is a woman centric movie.  Men are not neglected, but play a secondary role.  There are a large number of characters that you will get to know in some ways better than most large ensembles.  The main character Antonia starts the movie proclaiming her death is today and summons her great grand-daughter who she had promised she would remember at this time.  Then the movie goes over her life starting with her arrival with her daughter Danielle back to her home where her mother is about to die.

Danielle has quite the imagination and we witness her fanciful distortions of reality.  We are soon introduced to some characters.  Mentally challenged people, particularly one known as Loopy Lips are sympathetically brought to our attention as Antonia treats everyone as humans.  Deedee is shown to us as a rape victim.  Antonia attacks the rapist and later forces him out of town.  As the narrator points out Loopy Lips and Deedee find each other to their mutual enjoyment.

An old moody man, Crooked Finger over the course of the movie becomes a mentor for a a few generations of women.  He is always quoting Schopenhauer and one remembered line was that "it is better never to be born."  He is one of many that discuss their philosophy of death.  Nevertheless he is beloved.

Sex is celebrated in this movie.  Although there are two rapes shown, mostly sex is a joyous event.  When Danielle decides she would like to become pregnant her mother takes her to a big city while they check out possible males.  They find one from a pregnant  woman in a home for unwed mothers.  Danielle obviously enjoys the sex, but cuts off a relationship.  Later the resulting daughter turns out to be a mathematical genius and Danielle has a joyous lesbian relationship with the math tutor.  The woman who brought the sperm donor into the picture eventually ends up at the village and has a love affair with the local priest who gave up his religious position.  All the sexually active couples (at least five couples by my count)are shown in a montage with celebratory music.

Marleen Gorris directed and wrote the script.  By some research and a comment from the special features Marleen's background and philosophy is of feminism.  According to some write-ups some of her earlier films were guilty of misandry, one good example being "The Lost Island" (1990). With "Antonia's Line" she struck a more practical chord by featuring strong women.  Afterwards she has directed English language films including "The Luzhin Defence" (2000) and "Within the Whirlwind" (2009) both featuring Emily Watson as a strong female character.  Not seen either of these two films.

Willy Stassen, born in Belgium was the cinematographer has done mostly French movies and tv. shows.  Michiel Reichwein was the editor and had done two other films with Marleen.  Music was provided by Ilona Sekacz who had mostly composed for British movies and tv. shows.

Willeke Van Ammelrooy played the lead, Antonia as a very strong woman with a love of life.  She had won 3 Dutch national awards for best actress.  I had seen her in "Bride Flight," (2008) and surprisingly in a Hollywood film, "The Lake House" (2006).

Els Dotterman played the daughter Danielle with quite a range of emotions.

Jan Decleir played a widower with five boys who patiently courted Antonia and eventually won her love.   Two years after this film he played a lead role in "Character" which won another best foreign film Oscar.

This movie is the sort that make me glad I am not hung up over subtitles.  It is well worth the effort.
For more on Dutch movies:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/11/dutch-movies-are-hidden-gems.html

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Ek Doctor ki Maut" where Jealousy and Politics inhibits science


This 1990 Bollywood movie is about a workaholic.  Actually he is driven to do research as he feels that is more important, but needs a government hospital job to make ends meet.  His wife is exasperated by his long hours and inattention to her but sticks by him.

To do his experiments Dr Roy found a way to infect brown mice with leprosy and then using studies by a German Jew who died in the Holocaust he developed a cure.  The government accuses him of shoddy research and not going through proper channels.  To stop his efforts he is transferred to a small rural village where the medical demands use up his time and energy and he loses many of the indispensable resources needed for his research.   His wife stays at their original home, except for the weekends so she can care for the animals and get him books.  His colleagues view him as a temperamental man, stirring up trouble.  Because by accident he discovered a side effect involving female fertility, gynaecologists ganged up on him.

In 1990 animal rights were not as big an issue as it has become.  Near the end when his work is not credited he kills the animals including a rhesus monkey as he feels they are suffering needlessly.

Jealousy underscores many of his moves.  Instead of supporting his efforts government officials refuse to give necessary financial aid to finish his research.  Eventually a school mate after a plea from his wife campaigns to get more attention, but even that runs into a wall.

The bureaucracy seems more concerned over protecting their status. bureaucrats, eventually while delayed and delayed he lost out to Americans who used the same source material and came to the same conclusions.

Dr Roy does attract attention of an American research company and is offered a job.  He accepts because he wants to work and the film ends with an airplane taking off.  The lesson here is that talent (and a strong work ethic) is valuable.  The countries who put up barriers will lose in the long run.

The movie was based on the experiences of Subhash Mukyopadhya, a medical doctor in Kolkata,(Calcutta) who was the second doctor to have an in vitro fertilization baby born in the world, but was treated almost as a criminal for not going through government bureaucracy.  A very few years later he committed suicide.  The English translation is "The Doctor Dies."

The film won a number of awards in India.  One that got my attention was from the Bengal Film Journalists awards.  The movie put a premium on the role of reporters getting out the truth.

Tapan Sinha, the director was a science graduate from the University of Calcutta and became a sound engineer for films.  Went to Britain for two years and came back to direct movies.  Most of his films were in Bengali, the dominant language around Calcutta, now known as Kolkutta.  He composed music for 12 movies and for "Ek Doctor Ki Maut" was the music director.   He also wrote the screenplay.

The music was written by Vanraj Bhatia.  the only other one of his movies I watched was "Pardes,"
starring Shah Rukh Khan.

Soumendu Roy was in charge of cinematography.  Watch for the ocean scene.  Had done "The 'Chess Players."

Subodh Roy had edited mostly Bengali movies.  This movie was his last film.

Pankaj Kapur in my limited experience played mostly dirty old man roles, however now I  better appreciate he played a variety of roles.   He opted for art movies.  Movies I have seen him in include "Roja," "Finding Fanny," and "Matru ki Biljee ka Mandola."  He is currently married to Supriya Pathak and from a previous marriage is father of Shahid Kapoor

Shabana Azmi had been considered one of the dominant female actors of 'Parallel Cinema' in the 1970' and 1980's  Married to Javed Akhtar, making her step mother to Farhan Akhtar (http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2011/11/farhan-akhtar-young-man-on-rise-in.html) and Zoya.  Shabana's  father was an Urdu poet and her mother an actress--appeared in two films directed by Canadian Deepa Mehta, "Fire", a very controversial movie, banned in India after riots and "Midnight's Children."  Oher notable films include "Neerja" "The Chess Players," and "Matru ki Biljee ka Mandola."  She is excellent.

Irrfan Khan is better known to North Americans with such films as "The Namesake" "Slumdog Millionaire," "Life of Pi."  His "The Lunch Box" was popular at TIFF,  Also big in Bollywood with such as "Talvar," "Haider" and "Madaari," (http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/02/madaari-open-movie-about-government.html).  He plays a journalist with science background who encourages the main protagonist.

The film is something of a lost gem.  It reminds us of the harmful effects of jealousy and of bureaucracy.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Madaari--an open movie about government corruption

It is hard to believe that every word of "Madaari" is based on a true experience, because it explores what many of us might hope for, but never, ever expect to see.  The focus is on corruption with the protagonist determined to expose it.  We root for him, even though he is using extreme means.  A few powerful men want him killed.

In some ways it is a typical suspense movie.  A young boy has been kidnapped, his desperate, but powerful parent uses his resources to pursue.  An intelligent officer gradually uncovers information while the tech savvy kidnapper manages to stay one step ahead.  Before it is resolved there is a great deal of tension.

Actually it is more than just a suspense movie, it points to how endemic corruption can become.  As one character declares it is not that individuals are corrupt, but that the structure of the government breeds corruption.  It doesn't matter who gets replaced, corruption will resume.

The protagonist uses the media to make his point.  The climax is satisfying in that the protagonist is able to force crooked government people to confess before a live camera.  As you might imagine that would be quite a trick and I don't want to spoil how he does it.

The Stockholm Syndrome is brought up and helps create a maudlin few scenes, that might make some people cringe, but I found believable.  It works for me because they point out the opposite of the usual viewpoint--that the kidnapper can also become attached to his victim.  When you think of his original impulse it seems very credible.

Irrfan Khan has a long history of challenging roles and is fairly well known in America for such films as "Life of Pi." "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Inferno"(not seen) and even some tv. series.  But he is even busier in India with standout performances in such movies as "Talvar," "The Lunchbox," and "Life in a Metro."  He has won more than his share of awards including 3 Filmfare.

Jimmy Shergill plays a ruthless clever detective tracking down a very resourceful kidnapper.  Some of his notable films include "My Name is Khan," "Lage Raho Munna Bhai" (one of my favourite comic movies) and "Traffic" where he played the critical role.

The young kidnapped boy is played by Vishesh Bansal who had previously played in tv. series.  He was very effective as a spoiled young boy gradually coming to like his kidnapper.  His parents were effectively played by Tusher Dalvi and Ayesha Raza.

Nishikant Kamat, director has been involved as writer in other projects dealing with corruption.  He wrote and directed "Drishyam."   http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/11/driishyam-bollywood-remake-masterpiece.html  His first film was in Marathi and for his next film he is doing another.
Also did a Tamil film with a corruption theme.

Sutapa Sikder, Irrfan's wife was one of the producers.  Previously she had written dialogues for "Kahanni" and "Drishyam," two top movies.

Avinash Arun was the cinematographer who had filmed "Drishyam" and "Massan."  His one directed film was in Marathi.

Aarif Sheikh was the editor.  He had won an award for "D-day" and also edited for "Drishyam" and "Haider."  see http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/02/haider-bollywoods-version-of-shakespeare.html

Sameer Phaterpekar composed the music and like other crew members also worked on "Drishyam."

Another producer Shailja Kejriwel also supplied the story.  He has produced a number of movies in the Urdu language.

Most viewers would enjoy this movie if you like a little suspense well presented.

Regional movies are more important than I realized.  Many of  the crew developed their skills in regional movies or developed their career.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/01/regional-films-from-india.html

Monday, February 13, 2017

Underground Airlines

This is a work with "alternative facts," but that it is why "Underground Airlines" is a work of fiction.  But more like Picasso's  "Art is the lie that tells the truth."  There is a lot of truths to be found in this narration with bits that illustrate current conditions.  As with time travel when one event is changed all the subsequent events are effected, but author Ben H. Winters likes to include familiar names to the changed circumstances.  Also it is a compelling mystery.

The Civil War never happened as Abe Lincoln was assassinated in Indianpolis on his way to his inauguration.  As a compromise back in 1861 the United States legalized slavery and required those not practicing slavery to respect it.  Four hard States  (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Caroline) actively used slavery to current times, but much of law enforcement, both white and black sympathized with abolition so the slavers hired people like the protagonist.  Victor, is actually partly black, but somehow got trapped in a job he despises, hunting down and returning runaways.

Canada is referred to as a safe haven, several times.  A place where the slave hunters did not have to be respected.  We Canadians can be a bit self-righteous, but underneath we have our prejudices, but are superficially relatively polite.

A football reference seemed to imply that black football players could be rented out.  James Brown was brought to the north as a slave band, but escaped to Canada.  Ironically sports and music were two of the first breakthroughs for blacks as whites slowly came to enjoy at least some talents of African Americans.  Yet we have generally used this appreciation as a stereotype that limited our ability to appreciate them as equal humans.

Racism is still strong in the north.  Flags with "1819" on them are explained as representing the year before 1820 when slavery was abolished in Indiana.  Similar to the Confederate flag that symbolizes the "good ole days."  The word "boy" is used as a slur.

Little bits of revised history are brought in spaced throughout the story.  Martin Luther King Jr. played a key role in abolition in Texas and then was killed.  Other protests occurred in Selma, Alabama.  The United States withdrew from the United Nations in 1973.

In 1927 a Clean Hands Act was passed in Massachusetts to make it illegal to possess, sell or consume any slave made products.  After a Supreme Court decision other states adopted their own version of the act.  But the slave manufacturers found a way to re label their products in another country and sell them back into the states as they were that much cheaper.

Recently read, "The Half has never been told" about the critical contribution of slavery to American capitalism.  I was surprised to learn that brutality, carefully calculated could dramatically boost the efficiency of slaves.  "Underground Airlines" suggests that science and technology would be used to improve the profitability of slave labour.  Check out:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/12/the-half-has-never-been-told.html

What makes mysteries so compelling is missing information or misinformation.  You never know the full story, until the end, if ever.  You are being teased and you can't help wanting to move forward, at least with a well written mystery.  Nobody, including the protagonist is quite what they appear to be and you are never sure what their motivations are.

The author Ben Winters has written 7 previous novels and has won awards for both mystery and science fiction.

I have since read the Pulitzer prize winner "The Underground Railroad" that confused me with a similar title.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2017/05/the-underground-railroad.html 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BUSINESS ENTREPRENEURS

How many businesses have you seen go under?  Too many for me, particularly of start-ups.

Who to blame?  Obviously some individuals made some mistakes.  Perhaps they were naive, inexperienced, or under financed.  You might think the blame was on these individuals who were foolish enough to start a business, but I think you have to include us consumers.

It is easy to criticize other's failings from a safe viewing spot.  I have been an employee, an employer, a consumer, a salesman and have seen many failed businesses.  As a salesman I am conscious that the need for a salesperson comes from the fact that everyone is a creature of habit.  We feel comfortable when not rocking the boat.

Large companies have an advantage (most of them earned it): volume advantages, credibility, but also consumer habits.  But the larger they are the more they tend to be remote and have no emotional attachment to your concerns.  They operate on formulas and although flexible something are apt to get lost.

It is easy to underestimate what is needed.  To be successful it is necessary to have a lot of up front expenses as attracting attention requires marketing.  Too many these days rely on the free marketing. Social media can be very helpful and needs to be attended to, but is not enough in itself.  The underlying assumption is that if they build a better mousetrap that people will flock to buy it.

Experience is an often abused word, but is critical.  The mechanics of the process of business have to be learned  Before one is a manager one should understand the details of the business.  Maybe more important learn how to work with people.  Obviously there are groups and individuals that are willing to advise and many of them can make a difference.  New entrepreneurs need to be selective and not too proud to seek help.

Another problem that illustrates why the individual must be prepared is that most consumers are creatures of habit.  A few are mercenary and will seize advantages wherever they can.  Many will give a new entrepreneur some encouraging words and go back to their old habits.  Others will try to take advantage of introductory prices and then seek out other introductory deals.  Many will bargain in bad faith.  To build a sufficient base of loyal customers requires a lot of effort and other resources.  Marketing is a skill.  Accounting is a skill.  Purchasing is a skill.  Customer relations is still another skill.  Many details--you can learn some of them by making the mistakes or you can pay someone (hopefully trustworthy) to avoid some of them.

As a consumer I see the advantages of dealing with huge corporations--McDonalds, the Keg, Best Buy,   When traveling to unfamiliar places it is reassuring to see a familiar company and their formulas are usually well thought out.  But there are advantages of dealing locally.  If you want to understand a different culture one way is to buy locally

Big companies are able to take advantage of you and that is true the bigger they get where they gain access to very sophisticated tools.  You really can't be friends with the actual owner unless you travel in their circles.  There is truly a tried and true formula to make you feel comfortable, but it is a formula.

When you buy local there are many advantages.  Instead of shipping goods from the other side of the globe many of their supplies come from local sources with fewer pollutants. and some of the money stays in the community.  You can get to know the owners and managers.  If you admire someone with the gumption to take a chance you will find many at the local level.   You can build a relationship that is well nigh impossible with big companies.

The consumer is king and everyone wants your hard earned (and any other kind) of money.  We all recoil from bad service.  The real key is how an owner deals with a problem.

At the same time there is no need to be afraid of goods from other lands and feel guilty because you like them  I love mangoes which I usually buy from a local vendor at the Farmer's Market.

I remember reading an autobiography of Sam Walton and at first thinking what a cut throat business man he must have been, but he surprised me.  He decided to focus on price.  He felt a local business man could give better service and if he didn't try to squeeze too much should be able to thrive.

The bottom line is some businesses might well deserve to go out of business, but not before we give them a chance to prove themselves and learn from their mistakes.

Friday, February 3, 2017

TRUMP AND THE MEDIA OR THE MEDIA AND US

The press has power.  Would-be dictators will curb that power any way they can get away with.  Delicate egos distrust honesty.

I am sick of writing about Trump but he won't go away.  The most amazing thing about Trump is his sensitivity to criticism or any diminishment.  To many of us he is laughable, except he has power and vindictiveness.  He also has a fan base that just loves his every move.

BUT the media is guilty of helping to get him elected.  They broadcast his birther claims.  Any reasonable intelligent person could see how ridiculous and unfair the claim was, but Donald well knew others were just looking for an excuse to diminish a black man who ruled over "real Americans" and the media gave him his platform.

Much of the media adopted a balanced approach which enabled them not to take sides.  But all too often lies were made by one side--such as Obamacare was bad or that  Climate Change has not really been proven that overshadowed the truth.   Another problem was that the mainstream media has become very concentrated by owners with vested interests.  Corporate ownership had been encouraged under Republicans, perhaps most noteworthy under Reagan.   Ratings are now the key to profits and survival.  News has become entertainment.

When Trump declared his candidacy, although almost all media felt he had no chance, they still gave Trump a huge platform.  Bernie Sanders was drawing crowds, but not getting much publicity with almost no explanation while Donald was able to crowd out other candidates with very trivial presentations.  Hilary was hit with a lot of disproved or trivial bad things.  After awhile it was too late.  The press kept alive ridiculous stories about Benghazi and email servers ignoring way worse crimes by Republicans.  Important issues are ignored.

Now the Trump team has declared war on the media with Donald actually calling them the opposition.  They have used strategies from Orwell's "1984" of distorting the truth, knowing full well that if repeated enough the lies will be accepted by enough.

What can be done?  The media has to earn credibility.  A key to that is the truth and prioritizing what is actually important.  Voters have been misled and misdirected and many have no clue how they have been duped.

The economic platform of the Republicans is more corporate and 1% friendly so they have adopted the strategy of tying themselves to social issues.  Emotional concerns can easily lead to one issue voters, but that is what leads to voting against your own best interest, even on the emotional concerns.  A few examples.

Gay and Transexual rights.  Sure they are different, but really how different?  Does it affect their ability to do constructive things?  Do they relate to others of different persuasions?  We know they come with all political viewpoints, even where they are not welcome.  Do you realize how much they have contributed to the well being of many others (including you)?  Is love limited?

Guns are supposed to protect you, but they also are a threat to others (as well as yourself).  Cars are supposed to help us get things done.  A big difference is that we have more rules about who can drive a car and how as a way of protecting the rest of us.  Do you feel you have to have access to military weapons in order to protect you from the government?  Is it only the bad guys who get hurt?

Abortion is perhaps the king of one issue voters.  Agreed it an undesirable solution to a perceived problem, but what is the best way to reduce it?  Sex education and access to contraception actually work, but are opposed by many of the same one issue voters.  To some of us that smacks of rigid anti-promiscuity.  The one issue voters tend to accept all sorts of restrictions on helping the poor, which strikes many as hypocritical.  Desperation comes to families of all persuasions and it is ironic that often abstinence only families have their share of unwanted pregnancies.  Suffering comes from illegal abortions and there is a link between unwanted babies and more suffering.  Hilary Cllinton who has seen much suffering has been quoted as saying "Abortion should be safe, legal and rare."  Should abortion be a one issue decision or should it be put into context with all life and death decisions?

Socialism is not really understood, but considered very un American.  I see it as co-operation over competition.  Both have merit and diminishing either one has negative consequences.  Neither should be authoritarian.  The balance is tricky and one might hope that the fifth estate would see a duty to keep reminding us of the difficulties.

Media is financed in different ways, but most of us take it for granted that advertising revenues, a government grant or a sugar daddy will take care of it.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A BROKEN PROMISE

I did not vote for the Liberals, in fact I voted for the Green Party, one of the minority parties that stood to benefit from electoral reform.  Minority party supporters all stood to gain, but more importantly so did everyone else.  Who knows what Justin was thinking, but I suspect he figured he would do better under the current voting system.

Over the years I have noticed a lot of confusion over what proportional representation really means and many think the status quo is ok, so why try to complicate the matter?  What they don't seem to realize is that most of their votes are wasted.  It is great if your party gets in, but very possibly you could have stayed home and your party would still have won.  Mind you, if everyone took that attitude (and some do) your party might not have gotten in.  More votes than what is needed don't have any impact.

In a multi party system more often than not, the winning party does not get over half the votes which would signify more of a true mandate.  In fact a common strategy of politicians is to split the opposition.  If you really want your vote to make a difference take a closer look at the proportional systems.

Although most people claim they vote for the person, not the party, it doesn't really hold up.  A great number vote for the party regardless--I offer Donald Trump as an example.  Even under some proportional systems you are contributing towards your person.  If each party has to provide a ranked list you not only evaluate where your favoured person ranks, but can also evaluate the character of all those on the list, compared to other lists.  It is true for a party or a candidate to actually get elected they must attract a criteria point.  If they don't, they don't make it.  You could say in that case your vote didn't accomplish anything, but in fact you have at least registered your support which may be useful in future elections.

In general minority parties do get more representation, but a status quo party might well find they are able to use excess enthusiasm from one area to bolster less enthusiasm elsewhere. A problem for some winning parties is that they don't have representatives from all geographic areas or have a suitable gender balance.  A ranked list can give fairer representation for everyone.

In my case I know my vote won't make as much difference, but I feel I have registered my support and hopefully someone else will be encouraged.  But combined with other Canadian voters across the nation, the Green party (substitute your minority choice) would under proportional voting get a few more voices and a bigger platform where they can have some influence.

Was there enough consultation?  Of course there could always be more.  Details do matter.  Referendums are scary, but with most political parties favouring a new system I think it would be fairer than the one held in Ontario a few years back.  The public has to let itself be heard.  In the future I suspect one party or another will see it has a positive issue.

The biggest problem is not the honest confusion, but that those who make the rules benefit by the rules they set.  If one can get elected with only 39% of the votes and control the rules it makes sense to keep the rules that help maintain your power.  It would help if more people realized where their advantage lies to impact decisions they care about.

Although I feel my vote was "wasted" I am glad I didn't stick with my status quo choice of Liberals because I would be pretty angry.  The photo is just a contrast to an ugly decision.

An earlier post goes into more details about proportional voting:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/12/your-guy-didnt-get-in.html

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

WHITE TRASH

America likes to  promote itself as a classless society but with upward mobility.  Nancy Isenberg paints a different picture. Her premise is that from the beginning Americans have had a class system and uses "white trash" to illustrate.

The English were pleased to have a place to send vagrants and others.  The poor were seen as lazy.  North America was conceived as a vast vacant land, overlooking the fact that there was a large indigenous population.  Pocohontas, by marrying an English noble was seen by many as granting land to Europeans.  Many of them were purged by unintentional diseases, but as time went on by violence.

Tobacco was a product that required a lot of labour and after trying to work with natives, the European investors felt that black slaves would be more profitable.  Benjamin Franklin felt that black slaves made the English more idle and impotent.  William Byrd by 1726 declared that the poor whites in the south despised labour.

Voting in the early days was restricted to property owners.  Many of the poor white might have been called squatters and of course were not qualified to vote, but perhaps more importantly were seen as lower class.

Jefferson, a slave holder was a key person in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  It seems likely that he fathered some children with a mulato servant, although it is conceded it might have been one of his male siblings.

Andrew Jackson, war hero, Indian fighter, slave holder was considered by many to be of a lower class because of his temper and habits.  As President he ignored the Supreme Court and pushed for a removal of Cherokees.

The Civil War had consequences for social classes.  Large slaveholders naturally looked down upon non slave holders or felt superior, but needed to convince the poor to help fight their cause.  They lied about northern wages, suggested the way to move up in class was to save and buy a slave.  As long as the blacks were beneath them, the poor were not at the bottom.  Many poor non slave holders felt they were being asked to fight a rich man's war.  A slaveholder with 20 or more slaves could be draft exempt while wealthier officers were able to get furlongs more easily.  By 1864 the south faced a manpower shortage and some advocated putting slaves into uniform to fight, but others felt that would elevate blacks and would cause another set of problems.

After the Civil War, freed blacks were in an economic dilemma and many ended up working for their old masters.  Chain gangs were hired to do much work and blacks were easily imprisoned for this purpose.  Poor whites were able to feel superior (but also a bit threatened).

When integration started in earnest, it was the poor whites who resisted the most.  The author provides an example from Little Rock of a particular white woman who verbally lashed out at young black students entering a formerly all white school.

Hillbilly, redneck and cracker are terms used to insult people.  The movie "Deliverance"(which I remember as a very scary movie) depicted lower class whites that were physically repulsive and violent.

On the other hand Elvis Presley helped launch a cultural revolution.  He  came from a very poor Mississippi family.  He took a lot of black music and brought it to the white world where especially teens were very excited while their elders were bewildered.  One of the things Elvis did for his mother was to buy her a chicken coop at Graceland.  Obviously broke down barriers, but still many people looked down on him and where he came from.

Lyndon Johnson was the son of a sharecropper and became a teacher.  As President probably more responsible than any other politician for the legal advancement of civil rights since the Civil War.  "If you can convince the lowest of white men he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket."  He advocated for better education in the Appalachia region.  A smart man he used his background to gain votes and to understand the lower classes of the south.  Still many thought of him as crude.

Bill Clinton was yet another President from a poor southern background.  Raised by a single mother he overcame lots of obstacles to get an Oxford and Yale education that helped him to gain a political career.  He described himself as a Bubba, another derogatory southern term, but appealing to much of his audience.  He encountered lots of vile opposition often aimed at his mother who had several marriages and suffered addiction problems.

The author contends that politicians are able to convince large numbers of people to vote against their self interest by using class strategies.  Both parties carve the population into a wide range of classes and try to determine how best to build coalitions that will help them win an election.  The electoral college was designed to get acceptance of the smaller states.

The author points out that social mobility is greased by connections and class based knowledge.  The children of celebrities get a head start.  Another interesting observation is that dating services are designed to match compatible people which means to the author, class comfort.  Another ironic observation is that Europeans have more social mobility than Americans.  An eye-opening good read.

Monday, January 30, 2017

THE EMIGRANTS IN A NEW LAND: SWEDISH MOVIE PERSPECTIVE

We forget how we got here.  Unless you are indigenous your ancestors traveled a distance to get here.  In fact indigenous people did their migration a few years earlier.

Jan Troell, a Swedish film maker took a view from his side of the Atlantic and took us back to the 1840's to explain the pressures that directed a group of poor Swedes to cross the ocean.  This is not a story of triumph, so much as a story of overcoming countless obstacles.

The movie is very realistic.  There is a lot of mud and dirt.  Bodies are covered with dirt, blood, sores and unshaven hair.  You see animals die as well as be gutted.  Not for the squeamish, but would help to appreciate earlier conditions, still common enough for multitudes of people today.

The movie starts in rural Sweden where the farmers had great difficulty in eking out a living.  Moving rocks wan an ongoing battle and apparently the soil was not especially fertile.  The main protagonist Karl Osker (played by Max von Sydow) had trouble paying his debts.  His wife, Kristina played by Liv Ullman was reluctant to move, but when her uncle, a banished priest wanted to move a group coalesced amounting to about twenty.  They sold almost everything they owned and many took on debt.

The trip over is usually skimmed over in other movies, but was a unique challenge in itself.  The passengers were crammed in dark, smelly quarters with little privacy.  The ship was on a rocker so that the viewer could get a feel for the swaying in the ocean.  Some of the travellers died and buried at sea.  The heroine had a lot of blood from her nose and if you didn't know she was in the sequel you would have feared for her life.

Still their journey across the ocean was only part of their journey.  They took rail and boat and walked.  For some viewers the trip would be numbingly boring, but the point was to understand a bit of the suffering.  Friendships were tested and formed.  Kristina was upset with a passenger, Ulrika she called a "whore," eventually became close friends.  Karl Oskhar's brother Robert played by Eddie Axberg persuaded a friend to come over.

The first movie, "The Emigrants" takes over two hours to end at their destination in Minnesota which although not quite what they had visualized did show signs of fertile soil.

The second movie, "The New Land" shows how they turned bush into profitable farmland, but not until after a lot of physical labour and financial stress.  Language was slow to develop for the adults.  There was also some religious conflict when some immigrants felt Kristina and Karl Oskar were not respecting traditions.  Robert the brother was tired of the work and left with his friend Arvidd towards the goldfields of California.   They never made it, but for a brief time had a small fortune due to a boss dying from yellow fever and then later were conned out of the money.  The friend died and the brother returned.  He died from disease contracted during his travels after some family conflict.

A basic fact of emigration to North America was that the land was already occupied.  There was an uneasy relationship with the natives, but over time they were mistreated by the government and rebelled.  There were a few brutal killings showed, but the most upsetting scene was when a group of over 15 natives were hung simultaneously.  Minnesota was the site of a huge Sioux rebellion   Earlier an actor pointed out that the land had been stolen from them while Karl Oskar claimed to have acted in good faith, but understood the unfairness.  The Europeans brought new technology, and a stronger organization (Indians belonged to a number of tribes) and certain self righteous aggression.

Kristina felt homesick and missed her Swedish culture.  Karl Oskar was pleased what he had been able to accomplish.  As the Civil War was about to begin he felt obligated to join the army, but his wife was against killing.  He went ahead to enlist, but was rejected for medical reasons.   In the end the children speak only English.

Kristina seemed to be having babies all the time.  Karl Oskar was a considerate man, but felt making love was an integral part of his marriage.  Near the end she was told by the doctor she could not have  more babies or she would die--they took to separate beds as the only available contraception and he accepted his fate, but she felt she was not being a wife resulting in another pregnancy that proved fatal.

Max von Sydow had a long history making films appearing in many languages.  Liv Ullman was actually a Norwegian and there was some resistance to her casting, but she won without an audition.  These two movies helped her develop an American as well as Swedish career.  The third main character, Eddie Axberg had a long acting career, but surprisingly combined it with a long career as a sound mixer.

Another noteworthy actress who played Ulrika the loose woman who befriended Kristina was Monica Zetterlund who was a very popular jazz singer in Sweden for several decades.  In "The New Land" her real life daughter played her film daughter.

The book was by Vilhelm Moberg and was very lengthy.  There was some thought to making it into one movie, but it ended up as two long movies.  It was given the largest budget of any Swedish movie, despite the fact that good portions were filmed outside Sweden.

Jan Troell, the director and one of the screen writers was quite different from his more famous contemporary Ingmar Bergman who used a lot of symbolism in his films.  Troell used simplicity in his movies.  In these two movies he was the main cinematographer and also the editor.  He had many discussions with Vilhem Moberg who was mostly co-operative, but they did have disagreements.

The other screen writer, was the producer Bengt Forslund.  He is better known as a producer, but had written a number of movies and collaborated with Jan Troell.

The Emigrants was nominated for the Oscar best foreign film in 1972, but didn't win.  The following year it was nominated for best film, but lost out to "The Godfather."  The combined films won two awards at the Golden Globes in 1972 for best film and best actress.

Looking over Jan Troell's history I see that in 2008 he directed, wrote, edited and was cinematographer for another superior movie I had seen, "Everlasting Moments"  Also noticed that Eddie Axberg had a small role and was involved with the sound production.

This movie is a very impressive production, but not for those easily bored or squeamish.  It gives a good idea of what motivates emigrants and how their perseverance is admirable.

To get an overall view of Swedish movies check out:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/06/swedish-movies.html