Thursday, August 11, 2022

Charlie Chaplin

At one time Charlie Chaplin was the highest paid entertainer in the world.  In his life he certainly stirred up controversy.  Now although his films are seldom seen he warrants a closer look.

 Born in England, Charlie had a mother with mental breakdowns and father with alcohol problems.  He spent time in and out of work houses and other charitable locations.  At age 5 he was pulled on stage to sing a song and by age 8 he was on a regular tour with his family. 

At age 19 he was taken to the United States and for a time roomed with Stan Laurel.  By 1914 he joined up with the Keystone Studios.  He developed the Tramp role and by 1918 had become globally famous and the highest paid entertainer in the world.  In 1919 he co founded United Artists with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith.  His first feature under that arrangement was "The Kid"  The subtitle "6 reels of Joy" was because the length of the film was two reels longer than normal.  

Some of his films are below.   Chaplin was a perfectionist which means his films take longer and are more costly to produce.

"The Kid" (1921) Follows a personal tragedy when his son dies after 3 days and later he discovers Jackie Coogan.  The tramp is left with a baby.  He takes care of it, but turns the young boy into an accomplice for a racket where the boy breaks a window and the tramp gets paid to fix it.  A happy ending.  Jackie Coogan became a child star, but went through bankruptcy before re establishing himself.

In the film his second wife, Lita Grey who was 12 years old at time, but identified and elevated to playing an older girl.  During the filming/editing process he was divorced from his first wife, Mildred Harris.

"The Gold Rush" (1925) was considered Chaplin's favorite film.  Originally Lita Grey was to be the leading lady, but she became pregnant, forced Chaplin to marry her.  The actress who replaced her Georgia Hale had an affair with him.  picked up 500 vagrants from camp in Sacamento for long line of men climbing mountain.  

Chaplin was always looking for ways to enhance his films.  This film used special camera techniques, some involving glass.   There is a scene where two men eat their shoes out of desperation, apparently they were made of licorice.

He needed to make money and this film became one of the highest grossers for United Artists.  It was revised in 1940 with musical score composed by Chaplin.  He edited out the final kiss with old flame Georgia Hale.

"City Lights" (1931) was filmed after sound had arrived, but Chaplin insisted on the silent pantomine format he had been so successful with in the past.  The story is about a blind flower woman who thinks the tramp is a rich man while in fact he does have a rich friend who is usually drunk.  The secret explained is rehearsals to get the details exactly right.  

"Modern Times" (1936)  Partly inspired by a conversation he had with Mohandas Gandhi about how machines were taking jobs away and creating misery.     This was intended to be his first talkie, but decided the Tramp would be better suited to a silent format, but a few mechanical voices were heard (from a videophone, a phonograph and a radio).  One theme was that automation forced the worker to unrealistic effort.  Apparently the House of Un American Activities felt this proved Chaplin had Communist sympathies.  Working with his wife Paulette Goddard was stressful as he wanted her presented in shabby clothes and on one occasion she dressed up with makeup and was rewarded with a bucket of water.  The tune for "Smile" was written by Chaplin.

"The Great Dictator" (1940) had Chaplin in a dual role--one as a Tramp like barber and the other as the Great Dictator.  This film was financed by Chaplin alone and became his biggest grosser.  This was his first all talking film.  When the film was announced the British government trying to appease Hitler said they would ban it, but when the film was available Germany had started the war and the ban was lifted.  Chaplin's treatment was testy and they later divorced.  Chaplin was persuaded to add a new cinematographer who in turn convinced Chaplin to use two cameras to have two angles available. 

 What prompted this post were some comments from a senior call in program emphasizing the final speech   Here it is:  Later he was criticized for supporting the Russians against the Nazis.

In 1942, after briefly dating Joan Barry she sued for paternity, but a blood test proved he was not the father.  Nonetheless he was required to pay the child $75 a week until the age of 21.

In 1943 he married Oona O'Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill who opposed the marriage.  This marriage lasted the longest, in fact until his death.  They had 8 children., including actress Geraldine.

"Monsieur Verdoux" (1947) Idea was credited to Orson Welles   A charming man with a wife and child found to keep his family viable he married wealthy women and murder them.  Eventually he got caught and at the end gave some speeches about society that some would claim were communistic.    "It is more important to understand crime than to condemn it"is one relevant quote.

"Limelight" (1952) had Chaplin playing a has been who was humiliated.    Chaplin was listed as a third party for choreography    last film in the U.S.  American Legion declared him a Communist with lots of examples of working with other liberals   Apparently J. Edgar Hoover still bore a grudge and was able to tamp down distribution of this film.  As he left for a European promotional effort was told his U.S. visa would not be renewed and if he returned he would be arrested.

"A Countess from Hong Kong" (1967) was his last film credit.  It starred Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren and his son Sydney Chaplin.  Chaplin was writer, director, composer and uncredited producer with a small acting role.

A quote to close:  "I remain just one thing only and that is a clown.  It places me on a plane far higher han any politician."

Sunday, August 7, 2022


Bias in book selections and even book reviews hits home with this author.  We all identify with those most like us.  Susan Cain lays out much of her personal psyche and it resonates with me.  A previous book, "Quiet" was about introverts and I was pleased to read that I wasn't alone, nor as unimportant as I sometimes felt.

 With "Bitter-sweet" a few references to cellos hit home.  Until my son took violin lessons I had no particular interest in cello music, but a concert changed that.  Not an accident if one believes Susan.  Some of us (more than suspected) actually feel joy in sad music.

I apologize for all the use of "I" in the beginning, but this is really a confession.  Like you, I feel most comfortable with the familiar.  I maintain that it is in my best interest if more people can better understand people like me.  I do believe whatever side of the spectrum you land on, you will find merit in her book.

Of course I am not exactly like Susan Cain, in fact none of us are exactly like anyone else.  Still, we categorize people which can lead to misunderstandings, but sometimes we can understand ourselves better when another human describes the similarities.  If we look hard enough there are similarities with everyone and the search would make for a better world.

The title Bitter-sweet indicates that there is often a connection between sadness and joy.  She recounts the story of "Inside Out" (2015) which was planned as an animated drama of the importance of emotions.  As Peter Docter got into the topic he realized that humans need a balance of emotions after first rejecting sadness , but late in production discovered it was necessary.  The film was actually re scripted to reflect this new insight.  My daughter Heather had recommended this film often enough that we finally succumbed and watched it. 

Our mortality and suffering provide a source for sadness.  It isn't just our mortality and suffering, but that of others that results in much bereavement and regrets.  Everyone and everything has to die, but the author suggests that maybe living forever isn't ideal either using references to "Gilgamesh" and "The Flying Dutchman" to make her point.  Both Hinduism and Buddhism advocate the goal of life is to be free of rebirth.  

Charles Darwin is quoted:  "We are impelled to relieve the suffering of another in order that our own painful feelings may at the same time be relieved."

Susan  believes "...sorrow, longing and even mortality itself a unifying force, a pathway to love and that our greatest and most difficult task is learning how to walk it."

One of the sources of sadness is disappointment.  Alain de Botton points out that none of us are perfect and neither are our partners.  It is easy to focus on the faults of others, but we need to accept them for who they are and fix what is wrong with us and that is a life long project. 

Susan argues that as we all die, we all have something in common and pretending otherwise detracts from our ability to enjoy life.  Marcus Aurelius:  "You could leave life right now.  Let that determine what you do and say and think."

Finding meaning in life is what helps us to deal with suffering.  Dr. William Breitbart works with dying cancer patients to build a sense of meaning.  He quotes Friedrich Nietzsche:  "We who have a why to live an bear almost any how."

For many readers the contrast between sadness and joy is strange while for others it seems very natural.  Susan discusses many contrasting views as presented by philosophers, psychologists and others.  Readers will find views they have shared, but many will find new perspectives.  Well worth the effort.

An earlier blog is about her book on introverts which is worth reading whether you think you are one or not:

Another book reminded of by a Steve Paikin interview.

If you check out her website you can take a Bitter-sweet quiz,  listen to her TED talk and among other things get a playlist of Bitter-sweet music:

Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Making of Lagaan Chale Chalo The Lunacy of Film Making

"Chale Chalo:  The Lunacy of Film Making" is almost 2 1/2 hours long and tries to give an idea of the efforts to make "Lagaan:  Once Upon a Time in India" (2001) the classic it became.  But "Lagaan" is even longer at 3 hours and 44 minutes and it is very likely many details were skipped over which is just as well as the process was overwhelming.

"Lagaan:  Once Upon a Time in India" (2001) had been recommended by my sister Rebecca and I enjoyed it, becoming my introduction to Bollywood.  I was annoyed by Aamir Khan who has since become a favorite.  This making of film reinforces my respect for Aamir who does much more than just act.

 Ashutosh Gowariker , the director and writer originally developed an idea that involved British colonists being challenged to a cricket match by unsophisticated Indian natives in an attempt to get tax relief, but risking even higher taxes.  He approached Aamir Khan who saw it as an undesirable sports film and turned down the offer twice before Ashutosh Gowariker convinced him to take a closer look.  Aamir loved the script.  Eventually Aamir became intimately involved, not only being the lead actor, but a producer and even making this film his first under Aamir Khan Productions. 

 I didn't consciously appreciate A. R. Rahman at this point, but this film contains one of my very favorite songs with a sort of love triangle  and they do show a few snippets.  Aamir Khan negotiated with Rahman looking for a commitment while A.R. had questions that annoyed Khan, but were resolved.   A.R. Rahman went on to win two Oscars for "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008).  He is one of my very favorite film composers.

Most expensive Bollywood film until then.  Part of the problem was one of the locations and the large cast that included a lot of overseas talent from England.

 The script called for  with cloudless days.  Most of the filming was done in and near an actual village.   Bhuj was the nearest city and it had no hotel.  Production had to build one and to accommodate toilets acceptable for the British cast-toilets.  Cast and crew were bussed to filming location daily.  There were days when clouds cancelled filming and overhead jets from a nearby military base cut into camera time.  The heat often caused problems.  To provide crowd scenes they needed 10,000 villager who all needed to be fed and provided with appropriate costumes.   All of this caused stresses on the schedule and the budget and at one time stopping the project was considered.

Further stress came from the cricket match that wasn't as smooth as predicted.  They had to take many more takes than expected to get the effect needed.  One Indian actor really bombed and it was decided to do closeups, catch the swing, but not the ball.  The British male actors had been selected for cricket experience , but a few of them needed lots of shots.  The British knew they would lose match in film, but insisted on a real match with crew and in fact the British did win.

Towards the end of the filming Ashutosh had a slipped disc and was told he had to rest for one month, but they could not afford to shut down.  With a big stake in the film he agreed to direct with the help of a mobile bed.  He was in pain, but was able to finish the filming.   

 A few points of interest to film buffs were included.

Some of the British actors had to learn some Hindi, notably Paul Blackthorne and Rachel Shelly.  .A couple from the British crew got married in traditional Hindu style.  Rachel Shelley made a few frank comments regarding relationships during the shooting time which meant for the British that for several months they were in close quarters far from home.  They would also form attachments to the Indian crew and cast realizing they might never meet again.

After the filming was done and turned to a finished product there was a major earthquake in the village area they had filmed in.  People who had participated in the crowd scenes and performed various chores were affected including deaths.  Aamir made a trip back to Bhuj to present the finished film.  He anticipated a glum response, but in fact the villagers were delighted.

Obviously many elements for the documentary were planned and done during the original filming  However it takes additional contributions to help us appreciate what is required to let the viewers have a better understanding.

Aamir had made his wife Reena Dutta the production manager.  A few months later they divorced.  Also on the staff was Kiran Rao as the third assistant director.  A few years later Aamir married her, but more recently they have divorced.

Reema Kagti was another assistant director  who has since been involved as a writer and director, often pairing up with Zoe Akhtar.  Her film credits include:  "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" (2011), "Talaash" (2011),  "Dil Dhadakne Do" (2015) and "Gully Boy" (2019).

Another assistant director was Dr. Priyamvada Narayanan, who found her medical training useful during the filming.  She has been involved with two other films, including "Talaash."   She is also a psychiatrist practicing in Los Angeles.

Satyajit Bhatkal was the first time director.  His background included ten years as a practicing lawyer involved with many social causes.  In his mid thirties he decided his future was in film and television.  He worked in the production department for "Lagaan:  Once Upon A Time in India." He had written a book, "The Spirit of Lagaan" which reached a big segment of India.  He later wrote and directed "Bombay Lawyers"(2007) bringing social issues into a fictional courtroom setting.  He participated in a project with Aamir Khan, "Satyamev Jayate" (2012-14) a television series dealing with social issues.

Vipin Bhati, the writer has been a sound designer including for "Lagaan:  Once Upon a Time in India" and Chale Chalo: The Lunacy of Film Making"  Other films including  for sound work credit:  "Dor" (2006), "Bombay to Bangkok" (2008), "Jodhaa Akbar" (2008), "8 x 10 Tasveer" (2009), "Asshayein" (2010), "Mod" (2011) and "Lakshmi" (2014),

Aamir Khan is one of the premier actors and film makers in the world.  As he got established he became an actor who concentrated on one film at a time.  Abstains from drinking and smoking, but will do so if film role requires it.  Related to filmmakers he started as a child actor, but became a star with "Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak" (1988).  Most of his films were successful at the box office including "Dil Chata Hai" (2001), "Mangal Pandey" (2005), "Like Stars on Earth" (2007), "Ghajini" (2008), "3 Idiots" (2009), "PK (2014), "Dangal" (2016) and "Secret Superstar" (2017).  "Lagaan" started his success in the Chinese market (meaning he was at various times the most famous actor in the world--two huge markets). Check: and

Ashutosh Gowariker started as an actor and met Aamir Khan in "Holi" (1984).   Some of his credits include. "Swades" (2004),  "Jodhaa Akbar" (2008) and "Mohenjo Daro" (2016).  As an actor he appeared in Hindi and Marathi films, tv. shows and commercials before having scripts accepted and associated directing jobs. 

As usual I have bolded the first mention of movies I have seen.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Drive My Car

 Increasingly foreign films are having an impact in British North America.  After "Parasite" (2019) won best film as well as best foreign film for the Oscars,  "Drive My Car" (2021) not only won the Oscar best foreign film, but was also nominated for best film.

 My contention for several years has been that the best foreign films are at the level of English speaking films.  Of course it is very natural to feel most comfortable with the most familiar, but when more people take a good look at foreign language films we are all better off as it will raise the standards.  Check out:

 We are introduced to the naked wife, Oto as she relates a story to Yesuke Kafaku and they collaborate on its plot.  She works for a television station responsible for scripts while he works in the theatre.  They seem to have an enjoyable sex life and it seems to involve collaborating on stories.  On another occasion when he returns unexpectedly he encounters her having sex with an actor, but discretely backs away.  At the beginning of another work day she asks him to have a serious talk, but when he arrives she has died from a cerebral hemorrhage.

The viewer skips two years after his wife's death when Yesuke is asked to direct a play "Uncle Vanya" with an international multi-lingual cast.  One requirement is that he has to accept a driver, but is given accommodation on an island with a desirable ocean view.  The driver turns out to be a young woman named Misaki Watari.  We later learn she learned to drive so she could drop off and pick her mother up from a train station and had to drive smoothly or her mother sleeping in the back would complain by kicking.

The relationship between the two is very gradually built.  With Yesuke sitting in the back a cassette is played that lets him rehearse lines from the play.  She is not bothered and gradually becomes familiar with the lines.  He invites her to a dinner meeting with one of his assistants.  It turns out the assistant's wife, a mute actress is one of the actors in the play and the assistant had not wanted to influence the director's decision.  Misaki later attends some of the rehearsals and other conferences involving the cast.  They do in fact tell each other personal aspects of their lives.  You might expect a romance, but really it is more like a close father daughter relationship.  Misaki is a damaged person from her youth who learned to drive to take her mother back and forth to a station and learned to drive smoothly while her mother slept in the car.

At the auditions we encounter a variety of languages including one pair that do not understand each other (she speaks English and Mandarin while he speaks only Japanese).  We also watch the Korean sign language actress and various other languages that include Tagalog and Indonesian.  The first rehearsals are strict reading without emotion which puts some of the actors off, but eventually they see the merits.

An interesting relationship is between Yesuke and Koji Takasuki who was the last man Yesuke saw having sex with his wife.  Koji explains that he often had sex with women just to know them better.  Yesuke responded that "sex is not the only way to know someone."  When Yesuke's daughter died (she would have been 23, the same as Misaki) their life went downhill.  Subsequently admitted to Takasuki that Oto came up with stories after having sex, but couldn't remember them the next day, but he remembered and they developed a habit.  He knew she would have sex with other men.  A big surprise is when Koji is able to carry on with the story Yesuke and Oto talked about at the start of film.  Yesuke recognized both men loved the same woman.

As the play is almost ready for a performance Takasuki is involved in fatal brawl and has to withdraw from the play.  Yesuke is asked to take the Uncle Vanya role which he is very familiar with, but refuses at first.

The DVD provided a lot of background information which helps to appreciate the film.  Oscar winners must have more capable cast and crew to reach the podium.  Here are a few components.

Short story writer Haruki Murakami--titles from Beatle Songs--"Norwegian Wood"--translated into Japanese many of teh works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, J.D. Salinger and John Irving.  He liked using titles from the Beatles string of hits.

Teruhisa Yamamoto was a big Haruki Murakami fan and discussed with the director who also was a Murakami fan.  Then he went onto get permission to adapt "Drive My Car" for a movie.

Ryusuke Hamaguchi was the director and co-writer. Rysuke was nominated for both best directing and best adapted writing at the Oscars and did win at several festivals.  He felt a car encouraged intimate conversation, especially if the people are facing forward and not each other.   Chose a red Saab over the yellow Cabriolet in the original story for cinematographic factors.  My father had been a champion rally driver and at one time had been offered an opportunity to join the Saab team.  He turned it down, but maintained Saab was his favorite car.

Hidetoshi Nishiijima played Yusuke Kafuku, the main character who loved his wife, though well aware she had been unfaithful and found life difficult after her death.  Hideotshi had won a few awards, but "Drive my Car" garnered international awards including best actor from the National Society of Film Critics, USA..

Toko Miura played the driver, Misaki Watari.  She didn't even a driver's license when accepted for the role.  She also is a singer and was able to take a song from "Weathering With You" (2019) to the top of the Japanese hit parade.

Reika Kirishima played Oto, the wife.  She has numerous film credits including "Norwegian Wood" (2010).

 Masaki Okada played Koji Takatsuki  who auditioned for the role of Astrov, but later he was switched to Uncle Vanya, a much older man, which displeased him.

Park yu rim plays a mute actress who uses Korean sign language.   Also in one episode of  "Extraordinary Attorney Woo" (2022),.

"Uncle Vanya" as the play within a play warranted a closer look.  Many years ago I had seen a Russian version, but only had a vague recollection of the dynamics.  The BBC version of "Uncle Vanya" (1970) displayed a younger Anthony Hopkins and it made it easier to understand Takasuki's disappointment of being expected to take on the title role.  One can also imagine how such a play could be a foundation of the film.

Sunday, July 24, 2022


This film, "Jaadugar" (2022)  may seem improbable and may be predictable when the girl and guy finally get together. but it is very charming and not without entertaining twists.  The juxtaposition of magic and soccer and romance may seem strange, but also novel. Available on Netflix.

Neemuch is a town that has one claim to glory.  A native son had scored the winning goal in an international soccer match against Iran.  They erected a statue and held an annual tournament. 

The main plot concerns a soccer team that keeps losing.  Its manager is Pradeep, the uncle to the main protagonist, Meenu who doesn't care about soccer, but is a talented magician who is courting Iccha.  Meenu is very extravagant in his courtship, but can't remember important details of Iccha and she breaks the relationship.

It is not too long before he finds another object of courtship.  There are of course problems and he falls into similar patterns.  His choice to pursue is Disha, an opthamologist who is very resistant to his very inventive ways of trying to impress her.  By a cinematic coincidence her father is a famous magician who has been sort of a mentor for Meenu.  

Tying these two tends together is tricky, but it turns out the father of Disha wants to test this upstart magician and decided Meenu needs to at least make the finals of a soccer tournament.  Aside from the long losing streak and his own disinterest, Meenu has resentment against his uncle,the manager.

From here there are a few twists.   Some elements to appreciate include love, winning, family and soul searching. 

There is no pretense that the players are of international caliber, but the losers do improve.  Does magic intervene?  Well; very little.  There is really quite the twist that causes a dilemma for all participants and it leads to another twist, most unusual for a sports film.  Wait until the very end to appreciate the title. 

The director Sameer Saxena was the director and producer.

Script was written by Biswapati Sarkar.   There are some interesting twists that hold attention and a few character flaws that are dealt with.

Nilotpal Bora started out as an Assamese singer and has expanded to other languages and composing music. He composed the music and you can hear his vocals on most of the song numbers.

Soumik Mukherjee handled the cinematography.  His film credits include "Thappad" (2020).  Check:

Editing was done by Dev Rao Jadhav.  His film credits include "Tevar" (2015) and "Badhaai Do" (2018). A delightful movie,

Jitendra Kumar plays the magician.  He loves in sequence two different women and proclaims his love while demonstrating magic. Very charming, but a bit egotistical.  Jitendra trained as a civil engineer, but while at school became involved in acting.  IMDB recounts that once he was forced to recite some lines as a gag and although he had not seen the film or was aware of the context (a speech by Al Pacino in "The Scent of a Women" 1992) he impressed enough of the seniors that he was recommended to the Hindu drama society where he met Biswapati Sarkar who later helped advance his career and wrote the script for this movie.  Both women notice that he can't remember little details like their last name. Jitendra has been in numerous tv series and movies including "Gone Kesh" (2019) and "Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan" (2020).

Arushi Sharma played the love interest, an opthamologist  and the daughter of a master magician.     Credits include "Tamasha"(2015).  Check

Jaaved Jaaferi played Pradeep, the uncle to Meenu.  His film credits include "Fire" (1996), "Earth" (1999), "8 x 10 Tasveer" (2009), "3 Idiots" (2009) and "Bala" (2019).  Once known as India's first break dancer.

Manoj Joshi plays the master magician and father to Disha.  He is a kind mentor, but protective of his daughter.  Manoj started his career in Marathi and Gugarati theatre before getting into films.  Some of his credits include:  "Devdas" (2002), "Bhool Bhulaiyaa" (2007), "Guru" (2007) and  "Hasee Toh Phasee" (2014).

In summary this is in many ways a typical romance comedy, but has enough twists to make it interesting for those who think they have seen it all.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Expertise too often shunted aside

In his conclusion  the author Tom Nichols mentions two examples of people mistrusting experts.  One was Brexit where all the experts expressed it was a bad idea, but others maintained feelings were important, perhaps national pride or immigrant prejudice.  The vote would likely be different today to some degree.

  The other was Donald Trump who expressed a disdain for experts.  He once said "I love the poorly educated." many of whom felt put down by elites.  A consequence of his success is the disparagement of proven expert and true public servant  Dr. Anthony Fauci and the deaths of thousands of Americans (and beyond).

The author hopes "this would contribute to bridging the rift between experts and lay people that in the long run threatens not only the well being of millions of Americans, but also the survival of our democratic experience."  

As civilization has advanced we have increasingly specialized.  No one has the time to be an expert on more than a very few topics, yet we rely on experts to navigate the many complications of modern life.   Are experts always right?--not according to the author, but respecting them is important to making better decisions.

Despite a supposedly more educated population an increasing problem seems to be confirmation bias, i.e. seeking information of that we already accept as truth.  Jonathan Haidt is quoted "When facts collide with personal values almost every one finds a way to stick with their values and reject the evidence."  Check

 A quote from the preface, "Writing a book can be a wonderful and engaging experience for the author, but less so for the people around him."

At the time of the Iranian hostage crisis, ABC decided to offer longer coverage and set up "Nightline" which turned out to be so popular that it encouraged 24 hour news service.  Radio was supposedly a thing of the past, but it proved a great platform for right wing talk hosts of which Rush Limbaugh was a successful example. While most Americans had gotten their news from 3 or 5 networks and us Canadians with 2, that all exploded with cable tv.  First  CNN came up with the 24 hour format and they quickly learned controversy helped attract viewers.  A few years later Fox news came on and took a partisan slant on the news and realized being entertaining was critical.  Ronald Reagan did away with the Fairness Doctrine and it seemed to give a license to report news in a partisan manner.

To protect yourself the author suggests:  Be humble and assume the writer knows more than you.  Be ecumenical and vary your sources.  Be less cynical and allow that most experts are not trying to lie.  Be more discriminating asking if they are politically affiliated, do they have editors, are their claims checkable?

In the process of reading, a few of my personal beliefs are challenged.  GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are generally thought to be bad, although a Facebook friend of mine, Jim Weeden with agricultural experience and academic once assured me that GMO's are unproven to be bad.  The author assures that the majority of scientists feel they are not bad.  He also attacks Wikipedia which I use a lot, but assures me their film synopses are useful.  

 Bloggers are deemed one of the culprits.  I plead guilty, but do my best to give accurate information (corrections are welcome), but two other motivations are behind my efforts 1). to remember and 2) to deliver my opinion.  Getting correct information is needed to form useful opinions and to properly remember accurately what I want to recall.

As I was drafting this blog I chanced upon "The Great Hack" (2019) which helps explains the role of Cambridge Analytica in both the Brexit referendum and the Trump election victory in 2016.  Basically they were able to use data that allowed them to determine where most effective to focus misinformation. or ways to inflame fears and hate.  Implicated Facebook for using information gathered from their popular social media platform.

In the end we have to trust who to believe.  

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Great Hack Reveals the Vulnerability of Democracy

Many of us have written about Donald Trump's election campaigns implying there was something wrong.  Many factors were involved, but a trend that threatens democracy became more obvious.  "The Great Hack" (2019) uncovers a little bit.  There are forces that hope you ignore this film, but it needs to have an impact to help preserve some pretense of democracy.  See it yourself on Netflix.

 As a daily user of Facebook it was alarming to realize they have been collecting data that can be used against my best interests.  They are able to identify demographic information as well as attitudes/opinions.  We already notice that ads seem to exploit our interest revealed on Facebook.  Cambridge Analytica was able to get data from Facebook.   One insider pointed out that Cambridge Analytica identified "persuadables" and directed their efforts to "swing states" to be most effective.  They identified issues that could tip a voter's choice and developed material that would address them.  Voters claim they are not affected, but in reality the numbers suggest otherwise.

In targeting potential voters they were able to identify blacks likely to vote against Trump and instead of trying to convert them, put them in a deterrence file and developed strategies to discourage them from voting.

We all think we have a mind of our own, but many of life's decisions are really complicated.  A good salesman narrows down the decision making factors, but they are seldom as well armed as today's sophisticated data gatherers.

On this side of the Atlantic we are aware of the divided American electorate, but Cambridge Analytical earned its credentials in Europe.  Conflicting views on their influence with Brexit, but they worked for the exit.

Hard hitting documentaries require some talented people.  Here are just a few involved with "The Great Hack."

Karim Amer was a director, a writer and a producer.  His film credits include "The Square" (2013) which was the first Egyptian film to get an Oscar nomination. He had teamed up with Angelina Jolie for "The Breadwinner" (2017) which also was Oscar nominated.  Check

His co-director and wife, Jehane Nougaim was born in Cairo and attended Harvard.  Her film credits include "Control Room" (2204).  When she was producing "The Square" she met her husband, Karim Amer who became the co-producer.  Like her husband, Jehane also wrote, directed and produced films.

Key characters in the film include:

David Carroll was an associate professor of media design in New York who became alarmed when he learned his voter profile was held by an English firm, Cambridge Analytica.  Because English law gave some protection regarding personal data he sued and his efforts resulted in the only criminal conviction against Cambridge Analytica which nevertheless went out of business.

Brittany Kaiser, an American who had worked on the Barrack Obama's 2007 election campaign and also with Amnesty.  She became a business manager connected to Cambridge Analytica in Britain. who fled to Thailand when the scandal broke.  She eventually testified in the United Kingdom regarding Brexit and also with the Mueller Investigation in the United States.  She has become a campaigner for data protection and feels that Facebook should ban political advertising.

Christopher Wylie was a whistleblower.  He was born in Canada and at a young age worked under contract with Michael Ignatieff and later worked on the Barrack Obama 2007 campaign.  He went to the London School of Economics.  He worked at Cambridge Analytica and became disillusioned ,turning over  documents to the Guardian newspaper.   "You shouldn't win by cheating."  He compared election cheating to Olympic doping, once caught you are out.

Paul-Oliver Dehaye, a Belgian mathematician was another whistleblower.  He has become an advocate for data protection. 

Carole Cadwalladr, an investigative journalist for the Guardian.  Had written books, but got into journalism with an interest in technology.  An early interview was with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia.  She was concerned over what she called "the right wing fake news ecosystem."  She broke the story of Cambridge Analytica's involvement with political issues.  She has given a TED talk and advocated for data protection.

There are many films and publications that are alerting the public to the insidious data gathering that is increasingly prevalent in society.  We need to protect ourselves.  Admittedly, like most I am not an expert on data mining, but am conscious more sophisticated marketers are trying to influence me and others.