Monday, December 17, 2018

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

The first lines of the introduction give a clue to Yuval's focus, "In a world deluged by irrelevant information clarity is power."  He has already given us a focus on how man came to be and where man can go.  This book reflects on the stresses and contradictions in the world today and explores a few ways we might extricate ourselves.  Fortunately he does have a sense of humour and offers many attention getting examples.

There is more thought provoking ideas than I can cover in a short post.  A lot to digest.    My attempts to sort through are only a taste of what you can expect.  To me this is the Book of the year.

In the middle of the last century the world was offered three global political philosophies--Fascism, Communism and Liberalism.  Fascism was killed during World War II and Communism collapsed by the close of the century leaving Liberalism to expand its umbrella.  However our current news reflects a new range of anti liberal trends.  The 21 Lessons reviews several alternatives we might consider for the 21st century.

Economic growth has underscored liberal thinking, but the most critical problems today are being undercut by economic growth.  Technological innovation threatens job security.  Climate change and pollution suffer with economic growth.  I see a problem with his concern about the need to reduce meat consumption:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/01/what-happens-to-farm-animals-when.html

Social media is taking over the lives of the entire globe.  Yuval expresses concern about online vs offline.  Online does have potential to steer people to offline activities that can be healthy for bodies and social beings. Generally social media is likely to cut down physical interaction and be unhealthy.

Algorithms are becoming increasingly more invasive.  One simple example given was how a GPS system can tell us to turn right or left.  Artificial Intelligence combined with bio tech is now getting  an understanding of emotions.  Algorithms will know you better than you know yourself.  Trust in algorithms will increase as they will become more reliable.

Ethics can be and will be integrated with algorithmic decisions.  Philosophers will have a demand as many decisions will need to be made split second with examples coming from such endeavors as self driving cars.

Happiness depends less on circumstances than on expectations.  Humans are easily satiated.

Inequality is likely to increase as those who control alogorithms will have tools to squeeze more.  But it might not just be financial wealth, but also longevity as biotech will be more accessible to some.  the future of the masses will depend upon the goodwill of a small elite.  Some nations with a tradition of liberalism such as France or New Zealand will more likely support the masses while those with a more capitalist tradition like that of the United States may well dismantle the welfare state.  Newly emerging states like India and China, Brazil) are more likely to see an increase in inequality.

Killing a few people in Belgium draws far more attention than killing hundreds in Nigeria or Iraq.

Most people believe they are the centre of the world and their culture the linchpin of human history.  Rather than denigrating other cultures Yuval, a Jew living and working in Israel makes a few points about "God's Chosen People."   The universe is at least 13 billion years old with Earth being formed about 4.5 billion years ago.  Humans have existed for at least 2 million years.  Jerusalem was founded  about 5,000 years ago which does not mean it is eternal.  He also pointed out that Orthodox Jews usually hold the balance of power in Israel and have helped pass laws that curtail activities on the Sabbath including for secular Jews.

Morality predates religion.  He gives the example of pups playing until one bites too hard and they will not play with a bully.

Author quote:  "Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you can not question."

We are all complicit to some degree--"How can anyone understand the web of relations among thousands of intersecting groups across the world."

The meaning of life is looking for a role to play and a story to provide identity.  A wise man asked about meaning of life replied, "I have learned that I am on earth in order to help other people.  What I still haven't figured out is why the other people are here?"

He goes on to say that asking about the meaning of life is the wrong question.  The better question is how do we stop suffering.  He does seem to have a Buddhist bias, but is upfront about it.

Going back to Confucius ituals are good for social stability.  The most meaningful ritual is sacrifice.  The author contends that rituals are an obstacle to seeking truth.

On the question of free will Yuval asks to define it first.  If you mean the freedom to do what you desire, yes.  But if mean the freedom to choose what to desire then no.  Humans do not have free will.   He asks us to think where does a thought come from?  He concludes that although we don't have free will we can be a bit more free from the tyranny of our will.

Mankind has made much progress is studying the brain, but have barely begun learning about the mind.  He personally has found meditation to be a tool for observing your own mind directly.  Self observation has always been difficult because there are so many stories surrounding us.  In the future  algorithmns will create more stories making it more difficult to observe your mind.

My little sketches do not do justice to his overview of how we might look at life out of our complacent perspective.  Well worth reading and I expect different readers will get different values from the effort.

Read my thoughts  on "Sapiens":  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/12/sapiens-brief-history-of-humankind.html

Read my thoughts on "Homo Deos": http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/04/homo-deus.html



Sunday, December 2, 2018

The BDS Movement

The BDS Movement  (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) might not have been noticed quite as much if there weren't concerted efforts to make it illegal.  The goal is for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories, removal of the barriers at the West Bank, full equality of Arabs in Israel and to promote the right of return by the Palestinian refugees.  Israel claims Arabs enjoy equality in Israel and that the movement is anti-Semitic.  Both Israel and the United States have made efforts to make the BDS illegal or use national resources to restrict. 

The cause is known and for most people who consider themselves progressive liberals it is admirable enough.  Like a lot of people I hear negative things about individuals and companies and try to make a conscious decision not to support.   Other people want to take a strong stand and some of them are organizers and others looking for an organized effort.

Up until past my university years I would tell anyone who asked, that "Exodus" was my favorite movie.  I barely knew any Jews, but somehow came to admire them and how they had overcome the Holocaust.  I still grapple to understand the horror of  their ordeal.  I have watched several movies that focused on the Holocaust from many different angles.  It is horrifying to read about people who deny the Holocaust.  It not only is anti-Semitic, but also indicates rationalization (guilt feelings) for expressing hatred.

A few things happened over my adult years to change my perspective  At work I remember talking to a secretary at work about Hallowe'en.  I was telling her that I had to get home early to protect my home from tricksters.  She surprised me by saying as a born again Christian they could not celebrate Hallowe'en.  I have always considered myself secular, but Lynn was someone I liked working with and accepted her offer to read a book about Armagedden.  There seemed to be a lot of logic, but really twisting the meaning of Biblical words which I just could not accept.  But I came to understand and more frequently heard or read references to the second coming of Christ.  I kept a few details in mind such as there would be the anti-Christ who would seem to have the answers (could that be Donald Trump?), Israel would have to be run by Jews again and there was something about ten tribes that would play a role and that the true believers would ascend to heaven.

I gradually became aware of the role this belief played in American politics and other nations.   They seemed very protectionist of Israel, but at the same time saw Jews only as necessary for the prophesy.  The Palestinians were in the way and needed to be stomped down.  The fact that they resorted to terrorism only proved how undeserving they were.  Arab states and Muslims were suspect as they always seemed to be using the supposed Palestinian injustices to inflict terror on the rest of us.  Many Christians just wanted to protect the holy sites. 

The Arab oil boycott of the west was mostly seen as inconvenient.  One good thing that came out of it was a movement in part led by Jimmy Carter (who is the most admired president) who preached conservation.  Of course Ronald Reagan ridiculed the idea and reversed course.

Another factor emerged when my sister, Rebecca married a Muslim from Morocco.  She was actually married in an inter denomination ceremony.  It was over ten years and two daughters later that she decided to convert.  She is one of the people who I both love and admire.  I had come to admire Ali as well and he gave a different view of Palestinians.  He was careful not to speak against Jews and in fact pointed out to me that he would seek kosher food when halal food was not available.

My reading convinced me that the Palestinians had been taken advantage of.  While I could still admire what the Zionists had accomplished against heavy odds I began to realize they did so at the expense of the Palestinians. And the more I heard and read the more it seemed the Palestinians were being dismissed and discriminated against.  The media in my neck of the woods was almost totally picturing Palestinians as backward, dishonest, violent and undeserving.  The Israelis are pictured as besieged, but very innovative.  Perhaps there is an element of guilt from many Western countries that had allowed anti Semitism to prosper and helped set the events of the Holocaust.

After a television appearance I read a book by Peter Beinart.  It made me realize there is a lot of politics behind the support of Israel.  Check out  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/07/crisis-of-zionism-book-review.html

By now you realize I am sympathetic to the Palestinians, but there is more to it than that.    I am not much of a boycott participant.   I have completed two books by Yuval Noah Harari and have started his most recent book.  He has the best understanding of what it means to be a human of any one I am familiar with.  I am not willing to give up that.  An investment counseller was recommending a mutual fund and thought one of its highlights was that they included Israeli stocks--although like anyone else I wanted to make the most money for the least risk, but passed on it.  I watched and appreciated many movies from Israel http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/05/youll-find-arabic-and-hebrew.html  particularly the ones that seemed balanced.

My experiences with boycotts are very limited.  As a Canadian one example was when Heinz decided to stop processing tomatoes from their Simcoe Ontario plant.  I had driven through Simcoe numerous times as part of my sales job.  I remember consciously actually driving by the plant with a distinct, but not unpleasant smell of the ketchup plant.  French's, better known for mustard, picked up the slack and I have made it a point of buying their ketchup (which happens to taste pretty good).

I was too young or disinterested to think about the anti apartheid boycott.  I am proud that Canada did participate unlike United States and the United Kingdom.  Thinking what would I buy from South Africa?  Never thought of diamonds or gold.  A little later did enjoy eating Granny Smith apples  and have since enjoyed South African wines, but think of them as post Mandela (one of my very favorite heroes).

If we don't want people to settle their differences with violence we have to accept alternatives.  Every person who has a dime to spend has some power.  Once they spend that money they have lost some of their power, but the choice should be theirs.  Yes, there should be exceptions--we should not be able to physically harm someone or denigrate them. 

Israel is forgetting its values.  They have suffered at the hands of degenerates, but now they are causing great suffering that to me is counter productive.  I know there are significant elements that want to bridge the gap, but they don't seem to dominate.  Hatred and ignorance are very difficult to deal with, but others have found ways

Critics are welcome to do a counter boycott if they really want, but they have absolutely no right to impose legal restrictions on people who  feel the merits of the cause.  I think what needs to happen is more effort to reconcile the Jews and Palestinians.  Biblical prophesies can be interpreted any way that suits someone else.  The Qu'ran is interpreted very widely.  To me the boycott and such efforts to encourage Israel to take a fairer treatment of the Palestinians is a worthy cause and those that want to de legitimize it are the immoral ones.  Politics and money are a big part of the problem.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

FEAR :ANOTHER ANTI TRUMP BOOK

The title comes from a quote by Donald J Trump to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in March of 2016, "Real power is--I don't even want to use the word--fear."  He has said so many things, but perhaps this is the core of his philosophy.

Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame has found a style that helps to uncover interesting information.  He conducts interviews as for background meaning he does not attribute quotes. His sources seem quite willing to provide some juicy details.  He had also done a lot of research of media information.  The book is full of details of interactions of the supporting cast who mostly tried to prevent Trump from doing a lot of what he wanted to.

You want to read this book quickly, because although it points in the direction Trump is headed it also is outdated as the live narrative is changing every day.  It carries up to about March 2018.  Trump continues to make inflammatory tweets and statements and Bob Mueller seems to quietly get more incriminating information.  "Fear" does give a fuller understanding of the background behind the headlines.

Going back to 2010 Trump decided to explore how he might run for president.  He had generally been pro choice, but agreed to publicly become pro life.  He had been donating slightly more to Democrats than Republicans, but explained that was because Democrats controlled much of urban projects and he needed to grease the wheels.  Steve Bannon said he needed to donate to Republican causes, but doubted he would because his donations were more related to what he wanted to buy, sell and develop to make money.

Some bits of advice he learned.  Steve Bannon felt  Hilary talked too much like a politician which hurt her credibility even when telling the truth.  Kellyanne Conway advised to not bother with national polls, but to focus on the Electoral College where he could leverage his resources better.

As one reads of many private conversations touching on incidents we have read and heard about a couple of conclusions leap out.  Trump  has many preconceptions and shows little interest in understanding the complexities of many issues.  He always wants to project strength and prefers to intimidate those he considers opponents.  He never wants to admit he has been wrong about anything.  Ultimately everything revolves around him.  Lots of indications of mental instability.  Some of the interesting conversations are with Lindsay Graham, Steve Bannon, Reince Preibus and John Dowd.  Woodward talked to or about a lot of others.

Trump had had experience with bankrupticies and was not frightened by them.  He felt his negotiating skills included risking bankruptcy even on a federal basis.

In general Trump distrusted international commitments and organizations.  He genuinely felt America had been poorly treated by the rest of the world. 

Gary Cohn comes out as a reasonable man trying to restrain and educate Trump.  One issue was a sequence planned to deal with China.  They were to seek a coalition of allies to gang up on China regarding intellectual property theft. But before that got organized Trump insisted on imposing tariffs on a wide variety of goods and countries as well as break up trade agreements.  Instead of accumulating allies for the original goal he alienated the prospect of a united front.  In the meantime Trump met the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping and felt he was a friend.  Cohn tried to explain that trade deficits were not bad, but failed and eventually resigned partially due to his failure.

Kim Jong Un, often considered a madman is not.  His father apparently executed scientists for their failures, but Kim has realized they need to learn from mistakes, thus advancing his nuclear and missile plans.  We are all aware of a twitter escalation of war threats, but behind the scenes Trump was planning a tweet to order military dependents in South Korea to leave which would have been a signal to North Korea of impending military action.  Fortunately he was deterred from the tweet.

Trump had made a campaign promise to repeal the "worst deal ever made" with Iran.  Many argued with him, but he was adamant.  Perhaps he was influenced by Israel supporters who feared Iran or maybe he was supporting Arab interests.  Personally I believe Saudi Arabia is the bigger trouble maker when compared to Iran, but the phobia against Iran is crippling.  As one observer pointed out Trump is friendlier towards North Korea.

The Mueller investigation according to sources is very distracting to Trump.  It is often difficult to get his attention, but more so when public announcements are made.  Woodward obviously talked with legal staff and recounts many conversations between Trump and John Dowd.  With no legal training I would have to conclude there is no proof that Trump directly colluded with the Russians.  The book closes with a fancied quote from John Dowd, "you're a fucking liar," not actually said to Trump's face.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

HOW TO THINK

It is true.  You already know how to think.  Do you think you could think a little better?  Perhaps a bit pretentious, but actually Alan Jacobs does have a few good thoughts on the matter.

We focus on making better decisions while Jacobs focuses on process.  He alludes to Jonathan Haidt who used a metaphor of a rider on an elephant to substitute for the conscious and unconscious mind. (read more at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/10/are-you-interested-in-happiness.html Jacobs says thinking flows from our situation.  We cannot help the many details of our environment, but at some stage we can make some conscious decisions that will have long term impact.  A key element is the group of people you choose to be active among.  It is pointed out that if that group is resistant to outside ideas they are not the ideal base to develop thinking.

Jacobs believes a crucial factor in our ability to think is to socialize with open minded people.  He talks of the Repugnant Cultural Other (RCO), those other people who are not worth considering.  He himself is a Christian and is conscious that that automatically makes him a RCO in many groups and he is on his guard not to dismiss anyone.  An example he gives regards the Westboro Baptist Church which has gained the reputation of extreme homophobic activities.  To them homosexuals are unacceptable, but Jacobs learned of one member who stumbled on a homosexual and eventually found they could no longer spout hate language at them.

Thinking is thought of as solely an intellectual exercise, but Jacobs uses the example of John Stuart Mill to point out the shortcomings of this assumption.  John Stuart Mill was brought up in an overly rational manner and he became adept at languages, mathematics and similar endeavors, but felt his life was flat.  He discovered emotions through poetry.  He was one of the founders of Utilitarian thinking who felt that every decision depended on which choice would create the greatest amount of happiness.

Logical thinking depends on what your goal is.  One interesting example given was of Wilt Chamberlain, considered one of the best basketball players of his time.  His one weakness was foul shooting to the point of embarrassment.  Someone persuaded him to shoot his foul shots underhanded (like the high scoring Rick Barry) and his percentages improved.  But he stopped doing it and experts asked why.  Of course they assumed his goal was to score many points and win games which to some degree was true, but underlying a more potent goal.  He has bragged that he had sex with several thousand women and Jacobs suggest that was his higher goal.  Underhanded shooting was not considered masculine.

One example of open minded thinking was the Yale Political Union, a debating group with a different focus.  In debating a goal is to break or convert the opposition with the force of your argument.  Debates are usually decided on points for skillful arguing with public conversions rare.  While a debater is admired for the ability to break an opponent in the Yale Political Union they admire the person who is broken as displaying open minded thinking.

In most groups there is an inner ring.  In many cases any member who asks an uncomfortable question is rejected.  In a family (which can include pets, very close friends) the individual is not inter changeable.

Jacobs points out that those who agree with you will not always be in charge.  We all need to abide by the same rules, otherwise we risk losing a peaceable social order.  To deal with our opponents we should seek the most fair minded.

A suggested format for discussing an issue is to let one person make their case.  The second person to summarize that case to the satisfaction of the first person.   Only then the second person makes their case and this time it is summarized by the first person.  Before going forward each person must demonstrate they understand the other's case.  We all need honesty and flexibility to adjust our views accordingly when the facts change.

Sunk costs are known to be a problem with financial decisions.  As more money is committed to a project it becomes more difficult to move to a different solution even when the facts call for a change.  The same concept can be applied to ideas as they can become entrenched.  Jacobs refers to Eric Hoffer's "True Believer" where some people become so tied to a specific philosophy that everything opposed is either distorted or dismissed.  Social media is often used to fortify a viewpoint, but there is also the possibility of expanding to a different viewpoint.  Essentially if the in group you belong to is intolerant to outside ideas it is not a good place for thinking. 

Jacobs brings up the practice of classifying, a science of which is taxonomy.  Charles Darwin who spent a lifetime discovering and classifying thousands of species developed the idea of lumpers and splitters.  Lumping occurs when one entity is added to another.  A modern example might be the LGBT movement is one that continues to add new components.  Splitting is setting up a new category.

To deal with opposing viewholders Jacobs suggests you learn their RCO's moral dialogue.  Humanize problems whenever practical.  People make conclusions based on their circumstances but as circumstances change a change is possible.  While we are looking outward Jacobs points out we need to examine our own motives--why does it suit us to think the way we do?

In conclusion I would like to quote Jacobs:  "I can't promise that if you change your mind you won't lose at least some of your friends...  There likely are commonalities.... Do not think of your old friends as losers if you used to think the same."

If you need to think about it more before committing to buying or reading the book check out this website:  https://howtothinkbook.com

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

THANKSGIVING deserves more focus


There are a lot of holidays that we look forward to.  A lot are excuses for indulging--Christmas, New Years Eve, Canada Day/Fourth of July.  Thanksgiving is one where the focus is on what we already have.

The original Pilgrims (one of my ancestors were on the next boatload) celebrated  in October 1621 They survived  difficult winter with the help of natives.  90 natives attended the three day feast and 53 (of original 100 Pilgrims ) attended (education)  carrying on a religious tradition.

In 1859 Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November.  In 1939 Franklin Roosevelt  was confronted with five Thursdays in November.  He decided to make the official Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November.  It was during the Depression and he felt merchants could use an extra week for Christmas shopping.  Up until then it was unacceptable to start any Christmas ads before Thanksgiving.  There was resistance to Roosevelt's notion, but eventually Thanksgiving came to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday each month.

Some Canadians lay claim to an even earlier first Thanksgiving.  Martin Frobisher in 1578 was so grateful  to have survived a journey the Arctic that he declared Thanksgiving.  In reality back in 1859 some Protestant ministers campaigned for a Thanksgiving holiday.  In 1957 Canadians decided on the second Monday in October to create a long weekend.  Canadians celebrate a month ahead of the Americans as their harvest is earlier in the season.

Secular holiday Excessive food--great variety--feel obligated to try them all  come from a more British background one joy for me was cranberry sauce which struck my Italian/Ukrainian inlaws as strange   In the last decade or two cranberry has increased in popularity as a healthy food and interesting flavor.  Pumpkins Pie used to be mostly just at Thanksgiving, but recently pumpkin flavor has become popular a greater part of the year.  Turkey seemed normal, but pasta (which I love) and peas and mushrooms were usually included.  We usually celebrated on Sunday,  This past year circumstances conspired for a Monday dinner which helped coincidentally resolved a lot of conflicts with in-laws who preferred Sunday, but were happy to join us for their second celebration.

Thanksgiving is now a major shopping turning point.  Black Friday (the day following Thanksgiving) has been the scene of hysterical American shoppers.  Canadian merchants feel they have to compete particularly near the border as many Canadians cross over to take advantage of bargains..  

A movie, "Beyond the Lights" is an interesting enough movie, but what I most remember is a song called, "Grateful."  A young singer went through some rough times before her life turned around.  Song expresses gratitude not only for the ways things turned out, but also all the painful steps along the way.   Rita Ora sings emotionally backing up the star Gugu Mbatha-Raw

We live in a consumer society and more of us are realizing that is not helpful or as satisfying as it once might have been.  Just as pumpkin and cranberry flavors have expanded hopefully a feeling of gratitude and enjoying your family and friends will also spread.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

REFLECTIONS ON THE 2018 MID TERMS

The counting is not quite completed, and there will be re-counts) but some general truths are obvious.  Racism is still an effective political strategy.  Corporate interests can still dominate the reality.  Gerrymandering and voter suppression is a significant factor.

As a progressive I am actually disappointed.  Definitely some results were encouraging, but I thought the logic of the situation merited a lot more changes. Although the majority of voters expressed a disgust of Trump the system is "rigged" against their wishes.

House of Representative vote does indicate a massive anti Trump sentiment but the Constitution restricted the impact.  The total vote for the House of Representative was over 3 million extra for the Democrats, but they didn't get the equivalent number of seats with the actual power.

Voting rights were boosted in a number of states which will enable more voters to exercise their rights the next time around in a more equitable fashion.  In Florida ex felons will be given an easier voting opportunity.  Other states will have fairer districting or easier registering.

The Kavanagh confirmation vote cast a shadow.  Joe Manchin decided to confirm and that probably saved his re-election in a state won by Trump.  Ohers were not so lucky as they didn't vote to confirm where Trump was popular--Heidi  Heitcamp and a few others paid for their Kavanagh votes.  This may illustrate that many of Trump supporters were most keen on the Supreme court having an anti-abortionist to be the deciding vote.  The religious right still has power but they are tied to the financial and political goals of the 1%.

Another positive factor was that seven new scientists were elected.  They are all Democrats, but hopefully will help boost fact based decisions.  On the other hand it was pointed out that Florida with its environmental problems rejected the more environmental candidates for Senator and Governor.

There is more diversity in power than ever including African American, indigenous, women and LGBT people.  Mostly on the Democratic side which more closely reflects the actual population.

Attitudes and reactions are constantly changing.  The whole world pays attention when a President is about to be voted upon, however the American system gives an adjustment every two years.  It is all meant to give checks against power abuse while at the same time providing some government stability.

The president is given power for a period of four years with the possibility of renewing for another four years.  Senators are elected for a term of 6 years and their elections are staggered so that 1/3 are replaced every two years.   The length assures enough time to accomplish something while change is possible.  The House of Representatives are elected every two years.

Overseeing this is the Supreme Court whose members are nominated by the president in power, but confirmed by the Senate which may or may not be of the same party.  They are supposed to be beyond political pressures, but obviously they are not.

A few reminders why I feel Trump has to go.  Climate change is becoming more obvious, but vested interests are able to bribe politicians.   The Middle East is a mess made worse by trumpian decision regarding,Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Israel.  De-regulations are helping to increase deadly pollution, warming gases and the next financial disaster.   The Supreme Court will likely be even more conservative (against interest of most of  99%).  Russia has something on him or maybe he is just mesmerized with dictators.  His racism and attitudes towards immigration is dangerous for everyone. Drain the swamp is a joke.  Medicare needs to be expanded not restricted.

Likely there will be meaningful investigations.  Trump has immediately taken steps to curtail the Russian probe by firing Jeff Sessions and bypassing Rod Rosenstein.  And now the Supreme Court is  more friendly to the president he can get away with more mischief and worse.

What to do with the hard earned advantage in the House of Representatives?  They should be careful not to copy the Republican obstructionist strategy.  There will be plenty of offensive legislation to fend off, but there should be an effort to compromise perhaps on infrastructure and maybe even medicare.  There is the danger that Republicans will claim credit for anything popular which means Democrats have to toot their own horn.  They should also expect to get some of their own legislation in return.

While we are in the lame duck transition we can expect more developments as Republicans will try to stymie Democrat efforts.  For at least another two years there will be a more conservative tilt to the total judicial system.  Hopefully voters will realize the role the courts play in everyday life.

The photo is of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Friday, November 2, 2018

the shaping of my iTunes collection

Music is a personal indulgence.  Most of us like music.  Makes work more bearable, makes leisure more enjoyable, makes exercise less boring.  Dancing, singing and relaxing make us happy.  One's preferences are personal, but inevitably there is overlap with others. A few tips and some of the processes that led me to some music.

Previously I did a blog on how my music collection habits have changed over the past 60 years.  Most people of my age have undergone one variation or another of the same process.  It seems it is human nature to collect music and for over a century we have had the technical means.  Musicians (amateurs and professionals) could just play and/or had access to sheet music in previous eras but us ordinary listeners (and dancers) had to rely on actual musicians to get our enjoyment.  The technology has changed from phonographs, 8 track, reel to reel tape, cassettes, CD's and online streaming.   Read more:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/02/pondering-whatever-happened-to-my-old.html

At my stage in life I am hoping to be in final format, but realize that is subject to unforeseen events.   I am evolving in my methodology and would welcome suggestions.  Some would find my thoughts too mechanistic while others would notice I am not as technologically resourceful as possible,   Almost everyone would have different tastes, but if you go deep there are commonalities.  Tastes vary with history, gender, age, etc.

Music was very important when I was a teenager, but passing into my young adult years it was more of a background to working and parenting.  Became more focused on politics and news which is mostly depressing, but useful for social/business. Music relaxes one while the world brings a lot of stress.  Sometimes one can feel a sense of awe.  It can get your blood pumping. 

The challenge is what to include and by definition what not to include.  There are millions of pieces of music and undoubtedly something so far unheard might crowd out some of my current favorites, but no mortal human has the opportunity to listen to them all.  In reality it takes a few listens to evaluate any piece and I confess some of my favorites were not initially even liked.  Songs get over used, time presses us so we don't really listen,, saturation.  One's moods are subject to wide variations.  Too much repetition and your favorite song is boring.  How to make old favorites seem fresh?

We can transfer CDs' at no cost, use library services, free, but with limitations and promotional services, including tourist sites for free and you can pay.  iTunes offers a fair system of paying and my conscience always tugs at me, especially with relatively unknown musicians  I have looked at old record albums as reminders of what to search for.  Reading newspapers, books, magazines, online information can all lead to something enjoyable.

Using free services often means the composer and lyricist are missing.  I like to know that partly because they make a nice logical listening grouping and also  helps to research other songs.  Google is helpful when starting with the song title or even some of the lyrics.  I have also identified songs that I only knew a few words.

My tastes have evolved, but without forgoing everything in the past.  I love variety.  Although some might call me "weird" I take comfort in the notion that those with interest in a wider variety of musical genres are more open minded.   iTunes offers a shuffle feature which keeps reminding unexpected pleasant memories.  Constantly remembering old songs that have deep personal identification with--songs popular when among friends when young courting   Investors are recommended to spread their money around the world to reduce risk why not listen to foreign music to spread enjoyment?.  Overturning new music is fun.

Trying to find old favorites is challenging.  Many songs are in different formats and for some reason not accessible.  Other songs are ones I heard as a youth, but although can remember little snatches can't recall the title.  Google and YouTube were useful for finding songs.

With all the choices what is needed is a filing system so you can find what you want when you want.  iTunes offers a rating system and a lot of flexibility.   Using *** rating merely means a selection is in my possession, but seldom listened to, except seasonally for Christmas and otherwise only when the mood is right.  **** rating is what I listen to, the most wide ranging often pleasantly surprising.  When I want my favorites they are ***** and I can manipulate them to the most listened to list.--there are times when I just have to listen to a favorite performer, composer or genre, all of which overlap.  I have adjusted the number in the two top categories.  10% of the most commonly heard are the ones I count on.  That number is much larger than the listed 25 most listened to.  I don't want to listen to the same tune all the time as if it is really the best it still needs some contrast--variety is still the spice of life.

Languages are used as genres, even when there is a wide range of musical styles.  I now have over 15 different languages.  Some of the more substantial ones include French, Italian, Tamil, Hindi, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese (mostly from Brazil), Maori and of course English.

Julieta Venegas was first heard when watching a Mexican movie.  I was so taken with a song and had great difficulty in tracing it.  iTunes did not carry it, although she was popular with many albums.  I eventually used YouTube with their movie clips to find her song and was able to transfer it.  She is Mexican, but it turns out she was born in  California and popular on both sides of the border.  I didn't realize that like a lot of singers she accompanies herself with an instrument, and it is not (usually) a guitar or piano, but the accordion.  Creates a different sound and she makes it captivating.

 Shakthisree Gopalan was discovered from a Facebook clip.  I was slow to catch on that she was singing in Tamil, a song written by A R Rahman.  Largely because of her I build up a selection of Tamil songs including other singers, but she is still my favorite.  She has also sung in English, Hindi, Malaylam and Telegu.  The original song is my most listened to on iTunes.  While in New Zealand I stumbled on an Indian restaurant showing videos and they were kind enough to put on her song.





Arijit Singh is fairly recent.  The first time I heard him was through a movie I enjoyed, only part of which was his song and the credit was a bit misleading.  Not too long after I stumbled on more of his songs and learned he was much sought after.  I attended one of his concerts which was way too loud for my tastes as I know him as a mellow nuanced singer with delicate arrangements.   I have come to appreciate he is now in such demand that a lot of the movies he sings for are not particularly good. 



Ricchi e Poveri (the rich and the poor) goes back to when I decided to trace my wife's Italian family tree.  I took a course briefly in Italian, but soon got too busy for that.   I thought it would be fun to listen to popular Italian music (as well as opera).  There was a record album at the library and I liked it right away.  There weren't too many other records through the local library, but I soon discovered an Italian music store and bought a number of albums and cassettes.  I have other Italian performers, but Ricchi e Poveri stand out and in fact is my most popular pop group in any language.  An Italian colleague at work reminded me of some other Italian performers.

My experience with Bollywood started like most of you.  I came across it while channel surfing even before remotes were available.  Mostly I skipped over instances of Bollywood quickly as just too weird to take seriously.  As I got older I developed an interest in foreign movies and my sister Rebecca suggested one title, "Lagaan" and I saw it through enjoying the story of the film.  A little later on I watched another movie I read about "Kal ho naa Ho" and was really sucked in.  In each case I stumbled over a top Bollywood composer, A. R. Rahman and a team Shankar-Ehassan-Loy.  Looking back each movie also included one of my all time favorite songs.  I had always liked musical theatre and more recently opera because emotions are brought out by the music.  Bollywood (and some Indian offshoots) are the biggest component of my music.  My daughter knowing my interest in Bollywood sent me Facebook rendition of a Justin Bieber parody that got my attention.

The  South American continent plus Mexico and Cuba have an awful lot of attractive music, split between Spanish and Portuguese. Pictured on the left is Adriana Calconhotto, a Brazilian with a soft touch..

My French music is dominated by Quebeckers like Celine Dion and Coeur de Pirate with a few from continental France like Charles Aznavour and Carla Bruni.  .

I have broken genres into more categories than are offered.  Classical is separated into piano, cello, bassoon, choral  and opera  iTunes can pick up some request from other fields--one problem was with chants--a lot of French female singers are called chanteuses and although I like them too, they are not Gregorian chanters so I have had to find another genre term.  iTunes allow double genres listings which allow the same musical piece to show up on two (or more) lists.

Like most music lovers I like what I like.  Without getting too technical it seems the more one understands the more one appreciates.  read an interview with Ehsaan Noorani that discussed a bit about their methodology--work with lyricist and jam--one not particularly popular song was discussed in more detail about how they brought in outside musicians to create a bluesy mood--that led me to listen more carefully and came to appreciate the artistry.

My son has been in Korea and I developed an interest in Korean movies that carried over to some music.  He now is in New Zealand- one of my favorite opera singers has been Kiri te Kanawa who also did an album of Maori songs that I copied but unable to transfer it I bought the album on iTunes. I discovered Bic Runga, Sons of Zion, Fat Freddy Drop and a few other odds and ends

Randomness appeals to me except I sometimes become impatient and obsessed with one genre, one singer or one composer (they overlap)--that is how new favorites get attention Shuffle  At the same time I get in different moods including nostalgia.

Movies are where traditional composers are most often found.  They are well trained and I find a lot suitable for me.  A bonus is that sometimes the music reminds me of the movie.   The music is adapted to the dictates of the story, but there is room for creativity.  Movies are a big source of music, partly because a lot of original music is written, but also because they borrow from other sources.  If I like the movie, the music helps me remember, one of my biggest concerns.  Television themes--one of favorite series was the British "Line of Duty" written by a Hamiltonian, Carly Paradis.

I was once very turned on by a rock version by the Left Banke of "Don't Walk Away Renee", but when I searched for it I came up with a flute version that turns out to be very relaxing.  Later I found the first version and bought it.  Neil Sedaka  made a famous transition with "Breaking up is Hard to Do" from a rocking teenage hit to a more mature ballad--both are enjoyable depending on your mood.

The convenience of an online collection means I do not have a physical clutter, but more mental. Again suggestions are more than welcome.