Monday, August 31, 2015


As the world modernizes the birth rate is dropping.  Many think the world is over populated and that that is the root cause of pollution and climate change.  The population decline is basically in westernized countries and as that culture expands the population decline also spreads.  A declining birth rate also means an aging population and less people of normal working age to do the work which will increasingly include taking care of the elderly.  Immigrants fill in a lot of gaps, mostly at the cheap labour end, but also in many cases technical.  Many residents resent different cultures being imposed on them.  Japan is leading the world in using robots in manufacturing as one way of avoiding immigration.

There is a very complicated  set of dynamics at work.  Education, contraception and inequality are amongst factors that lower birth rates.  Women are increasingly getting better educated and looking for fulfilment outside maternity.  In other parts of the world we are developing an unhealthy gender ratio with men outnumbering women.  This is partly due to new technologies increasingly available that determine sex before birth.  Eventually, this results in not enough women for marriageable men.   In China where they have had a one child policy for many years the situation is acute.  When there is a shortage of females, males tend to be more aggressive and although it might seem to give women an advantage it doesn't always work that way.  Prostitution is one unhappy solution to the scarcity.

Women are still held down and restricted in many cultures while in western cultures economic forces many women to work long hours, especially those who want a career.   Those wanting to have careers lose out if pregnant.  If they decide to go ahead it is too often the case that childcare suffers.  If you get down to root causes, one has to do with wealth and income being concentrated at the top.  At the same time that the economy seems to depend on consumerism we now need both parents working to maintain an acceptable standard of living.  Financial crises occur when credit is over stretched in this struggle, often aided by greed and fraud of those who control commerce.  Business requires expansion to grow with a heavy emphasis on consumerism.

Some experts are waking up that we Westerners need more babies to manage our economy, but women are not co-operating (often with their husband's blessing).  Even a temporary absence from the labour force can impose hardship and having more mouths to feed increases pressure.  Some governments feel threatened that their enemies are breeding faster than they are, after all we still need soldiers to intimidate and even sometimes be sacrificed.  Businesses need a steady stream of new consumers, especially since babies assure greater, unquestioned expenditures and the aging cut their spending as they anticipate retirement.

Many governments are aware of the need and have offered incentives.  Sometimes cash bonuses.  The most effective incentives are family friendly policies.  Paid maternity leave might well have the most impact on first borns.  Some countries are very flexible and allow part of the leave time to be used by fathers called paternity leave.  This would allow mothers who sometimes can make more money to get back to work while being assured their newborn is taken care of by their husband.  Some fathers are happy with this arrangement.  In the United States as I understand it some companies who are able to afford it and feel it is in their best interests offer an unpaid or limited paid leave but most companies consider it too expensive and risky.  It is really a society problem and a government program paid through taxes can spread satisfaction that promotes productivity and better childcare which is a good investment in our overall happiness. ,

That is one step, but another important one is child care.  Quality means training, space, flexibility and of course that costs money.  In reality the costs would be more than a typical family can afford.  Of course this conundrum has costs that will be borne by both businesses with stressed employees and society with stressed children.  It is conceivable that the solution of having the tax payer bear a big part of the costs could have other benefits.  Trained child care workers could be part of a jobs program as our economy has less need of human labour.  They would be tax payers and consumers.

The whole tax structure needs to be family friendly.  We have deductions for having children and for child care (that is if the provider is willing to disclose their income).  We should also be thinking of the costs of education.  Education is normally free in the public system until about age 18 and then further education can be very costly.  Also the pressure to get ready for post secondary education leads many parents to buy tutoring and other educational aids.  All that needs to be examined.  One alternative would be to offer free high education to those who qualify.  A big task that somehow has to be paid for.

An irony is that future trends point to greater inequality.  Not only in income and wealth, but also in hours worked.  Some will work so hard they burn out and others will scramble to get any paying work.  Is this what we want?  Does this benefit the most people?  Can the very rich accept sharing some of their resources with the less fortunate?  Can the poor resist abusing their ballot box power which at the moment they seem ignorant they actually have?  With our increased efficiencies can we not give everyone an opportunity to work and to have more leisure time?

So far globalization has mostly meant a decline in the power of labour.  Demand too much money and the job is easily shipped overseas or replaced with automation. or someone more desperate.  Money can be concentrated and wired anywhere in the world where it can earn the most return.  There are other forms of globalization in that people of all incomes are more aware of one another and of their common interests.  Divide and conquer tactics are still being used effectively, but for how long?  If too long everyone will suffer, including the wealthy.  Pollution, climate change, disease are only some of the dangers.  A bigger one might be violent revolution on an unimagined scale.  All these things are pushing forward, but can be stopped by humans realizing their common goals and working together.

To me more important than government bureaucrats deciding details of our personal lives it would be better to encourage education.  Education that not only teaches us skills to survive as productive citizens, but encourages us to think about global problems as well as local ones.  This may seem like a Utopian dream, but there are elements working towards a better system.  Let's hope that they can forge an effective global force before it is too late.  Education is a very big topic and difficult for large agreement.

Prejudice against women is ironic as it only takes an absence to make them more valuable.  Unfortunately many women are deliberately kept ignorant so they won't interfere with male priorities and so their wisdom is lost.  In some cultures a women who can earn an income is even more valuable.  It is still another step for women to be valued for who they are.   The role of women is key--they need to be valued and respected, not just good in the kitchen and bedroom.

In many countries it has become difficult for parents to make enough money and to spare enough time for their families.  This is at a time when corporate profits are rising and typical wages losing power.  Decisions will have to be made by those who presently control the political and economic levers or they may find the forces of nature will severely limit their options.

One of the primary goals is to ensure that every baby is wanted and can be properly cared for.  We need a sustainable population where there are always some contributors to replace those who are not able to contribute while at the same time respecting the wisdom of age.  There are too many unwanted babies born or to those who cannot or will not give reasonable proper care.  Contraception can largely replace the need for abortions.  Ironically access to contraception is one factor in ensuring the birth of wanted babies.  One child policies should be unnecessary to restrict overpopulation.

Greed is often of only short term value.  Even the very wealthy need people to care for them.  They need customers.  When diversity is lost, so is the enjoyment of life.  So while parts of the world are aging, other parts are over worked.  No suggestion or policy will undo the mess our lack of a sustainable balanced population has brought us to, but we can  make a start.

Monday, August 24, 2015


As you may know I work for a horse publication, but don't have any real horse experience.  Except I love watching them.  My favourite has been at Cavalia which amazes one how horses are capable of performing at such a high level.  When you look at horses you realize they could easily hurt you without meaning to.  As a youngster I had watched a throrobred race at the rails and honestly although exciting it also frightened me.  Rodeos draw attention by demonstrating how violent some horses can be.

"Buck" was recommended to me by a contact in the course of working for The Rider.   She thought the movie presented one of the best horse trainers and someone she admired.  I am grateful she was strong in her praise and fortunately it was readily available.

One of Buck Branaman's comments was that his role was really dealing with the problems horses have with people.  Most people do not really understand horses and tend to work under the premise that fear (and reward) is what motivates the horse.  This in fact results in a lot of resistance from the horse.

Buck grew up with an abusive father.  He and his older brother were trained as trick ropers and earned money as entertainers.  The two even appeared on a tv show, but more commonly at live shows.  They endured regular beatings and after their mother died the beatings got worse.  Eventually they were given to foster parents who succeeded in changing their lives for the better.

His foster father encouraged young Buck to learn how to fix horseshoes.  Buck advanced his horse education and as a young man pretty much thought he knew it all.  He encountered Ray Hunt, a horse trainer with a different philosophy which was more to work with the horse instead of creating fear.  At first Buck was skeptical, but found himself attending Ray's clinics as often as possible and at one point working with him.

A phrase Buck uses was "starting" a horse instead of the much more common "breaking" a horse.  Instead of breaking the willpower of horse they found ways to work more gently.  He pointed out you can use force to make a horse understand what you want, but it is far better to develop a "soft touch."

I had read the book and seen the movie, The Horse Whisperer and was fascinated with the training methods.  Robert Redford called in a bunch of horse experts including Buck Branaman.  One of the most impressive scenes of the movie was when Robert Redford first confronted a violent horse and exercised some control almost immediately.  As part of "Buck"  Robert explained that they had wasted a whole day trying to do that scene with Hollywood horses.  They were reluctant to take Buck's advice on what they considered a technical problem.  Nonetheless using a few minutes of their time Buck proved he understood the problem better.  There was mutual respect between the two men.

Although Buck was on the road giving horse clinics across North America for about nine months of the year he had good relations with his wife and daughters.  His wife joined him on the road when possible and his daughters actually took part in some of his clinics during their summer breaks.

Much of his advice was pertinent to human relations.  Horses are a very unique wonderful animal, but I suggest anyone could benefit from watching this movie as well just enjoying it.  Horses can teach us a lot.

Cavalia really did leave a strong impression:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Giuseppe Tornatore

Every now and then a movie viewer will catch on that some individuals  are worth following.  Some are very prolific and they learn and develop, but they aren't as selective as others.  First saw a Giuseppe Tornatore film probably ten years ago and thought it was good, but wasn't paying enough attention to realize it was special.

He was born in Sicily in 1956.  Giuseppe started with television in the early 1980's.  His first film, a documentary was released in 1985 and won an award at the Salerno Festival.

In 1988 he wrote and directed "Cinema Paradiso" which won the Oscar for best foreign language film.  It was about his child hood and the local movie theatre.  Partnered with Ennio Morricone, one of my favourite composers and one way I discovered some of these movies.   A scene where the boy's mother accuses her son of using milk money to attend the movies reminds me when I had a paper route I used to collect enough to go to the Saturday matinee with popcorn and afterwards scramble to pay my bill.  Film clips including American and French as well as Italian movies.  Interesting was that he included French actors in prominent roles.  Also I completely misunderstood the surprise at the end, but have since noticed there is usually something unexpected at his conclusions.

For movie lovers this is an excellent movie to dwell on.  The early parts of the movie were somewhat autobiographical.  There was a priest that signalled to the projectionist to cut out all scenes with kissing and later in the movie this has a dramatic twist.  The movies focus on one projectionist, but apparently young Giuseppe related to a few.  The director's love of movies comes from the reactions of his fellow movie goers shown frequently laughing, being scared, crying and being fascinated by the stories.  Giuseppe said that the love story woven in the film was completely fabricated.

We meet a young boy learning from the projectionist and one point was that film was flammable which leads to a major plot development.  The projectionist tells about his early day when the films were silent and had to be cranked.  Later, after a tragic fire we see film that isn't flammable.  As time moves on we learn about DVD for the movie theatre.

There are multitudes of little details that are used for dramatic effect.  In one scene there is a slight focus on one man who is not acting scared at a horror movie and then the camera moves a little further away to show a woman also not afraid.  They notice one another.  A bit later you see them as a couple.  Then much later you see them both much older, but still a couple.  The camera focuses on the audience and how much they enjoyed a movie--sometimes crying, sometimes scared and often laughing.  Enjoying movies was a community affair.

I owe my sister an apology.  Several years ago she had recommended at least 3 foreign films including Cinema Paradiso.  I watched it while multi tasking and thought it ok, but not special.  What prompted a second viewing at least ten years later was another Tornatore movie.  I already acknowledged a similar apology for a Mexican film she touted, but she did successfully steer me towards Bollywood.

His first feature in 1986 was "The Professor" with American tv star Ben Gazzara.  Unfortunately it is not available at my usual sources.  Blasco Guirato as a cinematographer.    Nicola Pionvani composed the music.

"A Pure Formality" was released 1994 with Roman Polanski and Gerard Depardieu in French.  Originally saw several years ago on a VHS tape, but the library has not upgraded to a DVD .  I remember it had clever dialogue and was a tricky cat and mouse game with a twist ending.  Ennio Morricone and Blasco Giurato teamed up.

"The Legend of 1900" was released in 1998 starring Tim Roth as a man who spends his whole life on a big ocean liner.  What is remembered by many is a piano duel.  Ennio Morricone composed the music with Lajos Koltai provided cinematography.  Massimo Quaglia was the editor.   Editing is critical as the first version of "Cinema Paradiso" at 170 minutes and was panned by almost all critics.  It was trimmed down in two stages. and won awards and fan appreciation.

"Malena", was released in 2000.  Monica Bellucci played a beautiful woman who attracted a lot abusive attention during World War II in Sicily.   Morricone again wrote some memorable music.  Lajo Koltai  handled the cinematography and Massio Quaglia edited the film.

"The Unknown Woman"  another award winner on the film festival tour. was released in 2006  Teamed up with Morricone, Fabio Zamarioin, cinematography and Massimo Quaglia as editor.  It was a well layered plot unraveled teasingly.  The Russian actress, Kseniya  Rappoport, was excellent.

"Baaria" released in 2009  was more recounting of his boyhood.   Politics is integral with Communists at one point challenging corruption.    It was a pleasure to watch special features that included Ennio and Giuseppe discussing a tune (Ennio trying to get Giuseppe to accept a change.    Giuseppe used a Sicilian dialect from his home town.  Enrico Lucidi was cinematographer and Massimo Quaglia edited.

"The Best Offer"  released in 2013 in English staring Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Donald Sutherland and Sylvia Hoeks.  I found the trailer mis-leading, but perhaps deliberately.  It helps if you appreciate art, but not necessary.  Again details matter and the plot moves steadily to a twist ending.  Ennio Morricone, Fabio Zamarion and Massimo Quaglia together.

It is quite awhile between Tornatore movies, but look forward to his next offering.  "La Correpundenza" is scheduled for a 2016 release with Olga Kurylenko and Jeremy Lyons.  Once again a winning combination with Ennio, Fabbio and Massimo contributing.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Did you mostly ignore the Parapan Am Games?  You had a lot of company, but they opened up my mind a little.  I had forgotten an experience 39 years ago that impressed me a lot at the time.

In 1976 when the Olympics were held in Montreal, the Paralympics were held in Etobicoke.  Back in those days the two events (for able and disabled) were not necessarily in the same city.  Some countries denied they had a disabled population and in reality they weren't treated as contributors to society.   I had a press pass as I was working on a book about basketball and was able to include wheelchair basketball.

The situation was quite loose and spectators could get very close to the competitions.  I had heard about Arnie Boldt and frankly his achievements seemed like something of a circus act.  He had competition and the event was in the rain.  Tension built up as finally he was the only competitor left.  At the end he set a new world record for a one legged high jump.  Arnie was one of the flag bearers at the 2015 Parapan Am Games Opening.

The Parapan Am Games were qualifying for the upcoming Paralympics in Brazil meaning most countries sent their best athletes.  Not surprisingly Brazil topped the medals list, followed by host country Canada and the United States.  In the Pan American Games Brazil finished third.

Does society benefit?  The event opens our eyes to abilities, provide models for both the disabled and the able bodied, encourage physical and social activities for more people.  The joy of sports is competition and artistry.  Accessibility and acceptance benefits everyone  CN Tower making extreme EdgeWalk Experience accessible to wheelchairs is more symbolic than anything, but does create some momentum for more practical accessibility solutions.

Classification is the basis for the Games.  They accept a wide variety of disabilities (and on a sliding scale of severity), but try to be fair. Each sport has its own requirements and needs its own classification.  Team sports try to have a balance to include those most severely handicapped.  Missing limbs are easy to spot, but others are handicapped with muscles that atrophied through polio, strokes, etc.  Cerebral palsy is still another handicap.  Blindness has one sport devoted to it--Goalball.  Intellectual limitations (which I thought I heard included autism)   Queasiness is natural viewing amputated and atrophied limbs, but one gets used to it and can better appreciate abilities and the people.

Some events were not really competitive--in some ways the distribution of talent combined with disability cannot be equal--warfare, the randomness of accidents and genetic defects.  However organization and development does play a significant role:  Israel was dominant in wheelchair basketball mainly because they developed rehabilitation programs for returning soldiers. Competitiveness varies, but can be very riveting.

Most Canadians recognized Rick Mercer carrying the torch and lending his prestige to the event.  Rick Hansen and Chantal Petticlerc, having given Canada some pride lit the flame.  The Canadian flag bearer was Marco Dispaltro who at age 48 was one of the older athletes.  He developed muscular dystrophy and was told he would not live past 40.  Earlier he had taken part in wheelchair rugby and then tennis, before taking up boccia.  Jean Sok B-boy Hourth from France provided some entertainment and amazed people with what he could do with only one leg performing hip hop.  My words don't do him justice-- let him open your eyes with one of his videos

The idea for wheelchair basketball originated as a form of netball at Stokes-Mandville as therapy for disabled war vets.  Americans adapted it to basketball.   They have a system to balance differing levels of ability, ironically height still has an advantage.   Players strap themselves to chairs which often tip but are easy to put upright.

Wheelchair basketball-caught parts of several games.  Unfortunately the Canadians lost to the Americans and although I had seen both of them play I didn't see the critical game.  It may be unfair to single out one player, but he certainly got my attention.  Gustavo Villafane of Argentina has only one arm, but was not included just because he lowered the team's physical eligibility requirements but as a major contributor.  He shoots a very high percentage (there are no dunks), but was also impressive rebounding, passing and general defence.  Perhaps the key to marketing is to draw attention to more of the athletes.

Wheelchair rugby in some ways seemed very simple, but much rougher.  I had seen a documentary a few years back called "Murderball" which was mostly about the rivalry between Canada and the United States who in fact met in the finals.  Zak Madell scored most of the goals.

Swimming is something I have watched for years, but learned something new from one of the journalists.  If a pool is deeper, such as the one used in the ParaPan Am swimming it will produce faster times as there is less turbulence. The big swimming winner, Aurelia Rivard was from a small town in Quebec, St Jean-sur-Richelieu that I used to make sales calls to.

Blind running with a guide demands teamwork  Obviously the guide has to be able to keep up with the competitor while at the same time steering and encouraging them.  Trust is vital and no doubt takes time and a lot of practice to develop.  Some with limited vision were able to run without guides.  During the relays some runners used guides while others didn't.

There were many other sports that I caught a snippet of.  This Parapan Pan Am Games included more sports than any previous.  The names mentioned are just a few that somehow got my attention,

I was disappointed Equestrian was not included as at The Rider we have covered many para events.  We are also aware that riding is beneficial for balance, and building confidence.  One Para Equestrian champion took part in the torch relay Jody Schloss who had represented Canada at the London Paralympics as an equestrian.

World Deaf Games is a well developed international event with both a summer and a winter section.  Deaf people do not appear handicapped, but are at a disadvantage competing against hearing opponents.  Still there has been a little carry over that I am sure got a spurt from deaf sports events.

Another legacy is the Athlete's Village located in the Donlands section of Toronto.  It is designed to encourage physical activity with sidewalks double to triple normal size.  It is located with the idea that future residents will be able to easily bike or walk to work.

Closing ceremonies are less formal.  Serena Ryder's singing to fireworks.  Wyclef Jean performed in English, French and Spanish and was a big crowd favourite.  He had written and performed the official song for the FIFA World Cup in 2014. The mayor of Toronto handed over regalia to the mayor of Lima, Peru the host of the next Parapan Am Games.  Zak Madell was the flag bearer for Canada.

The international spotlight was on Canada and we opened our eyes a bit and advanced the cause of "disabled" people. The biggest Parapan Am Games in history, with more athletes, more countries and more sports.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

WHAT CHOICE DO YOU HAVE? some thoughts on Freedom

Choice,  a simple word, but in essence it is what freedom boils down to.  A quote from Charles M. Blow, " if success was merely a result of a collection of choices and not also a confluence of circumstances."  My contention is that your choices are within perceived opportunities (which you can expand) and as you make better choices you are edging towards success, happiness and relative freedom.

Choices are everywhere, but mostly buried or ignored.  Most of us, most of the time react to what comes our way.  Some of us, some of the time dig a little deeper to expand our choices or at least to understand our options a little better. Most choices in fact are almost automatic and that is not all bad.

A lot of my posts have revolved around how our subconscious makes most of our choices, freeing us to choose opportunities. One of the best choices was "The Art of Choosing" at  about Sheena Iyengar's book and another was "The Power of Habit" at js about Charles Duhigg's book where you learn you can replace a bad habit with a good habit making your automatic choices automatically better.

We can be manipulated to making choices not necessarily in our best interests by other people as explained in my post on "Split second decision", at about Kevin Dutton's book and at a post including mindless eating  at  At least we can understand how others are trying to impose choices on us.

Good/bad, better/worse, best/worst.  It is not like a choice is either/or, but more often which. You may think you can buy an ice cream cone or not, but really you have different flavours to choose from and you could choose something healthier or more decadent.  Or you could take that money and apply it to some other project altogether.  Often the human brain prefers to eliminate options and narrow down the choice.

Success in life depends on choices.  Choices in reality are opportunities.  Most of us do not have the opportunity to rocket to Mars, but we can fantasize what it might be like.  Fantasizing might well be a tool of progress, but to get to Mars we have to make many other choices along the way. When you choose to spend more time studying you open up more choices of courses and institutions.

In reality doing something or not doing something have consequences including further opportunities with choices to be made.

One opportunity for choices is your own health.  Unfortunately we are not all born healthy or in possession of the normal human capabilities.  There are many ways to exercise, many food choices and how to rest with many activities to distract you.  Do you seek medical advice?

Authority figures are with us when we are born, usually our parents, and most of us accept authority. As we gain more control over our body and environment we try to assert our own authority, sometimes by choosing other authority figures to accept.

Decidaphobia can best be explained with a restaurant analogy.  People can take a long time deciding even limited choices, but when the choices spread to many pages, the time taken to decide can take from the enjoyment.  Restaurants don't want you dilly dallying over choices for too long.  On the other hand some boast of the wide range of choices.  One office supply company used the slogan "the power of selection" to brag about how many choices they offered--long out of business.

Some of the biggest choices--who to marry (if so); what career to follow; which way to vote; how best to fit in; where to live, how to spend your money---each one is preceded by thousands of lesser choices. and has consequences--success or happiness--why not both?

Part of you knows what you should do, but you find it difficult to summon up the will power?  Here is some advice from an earlier post by way of Kelly McGonigal.

Photo:  Just another beautiful photo I chose cause I like it and hoped it would get your attention.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Turtles have survived from the Dinosaur era

After listening to Lindsay Maxim from the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre on Fresh Air I was reminded of an earlier interest in turtles.  Like many youngsters I had a few pet turtles that all died prematurely.  My brother Marshall combined turtles with salamanders and we noticed that the salamanders kept losing their tails. Unfortunately, as is all too common we really didn't know how to take care of pet turtles.

Kawartha Trauma Centre was encountered in my travels as a salesman to veterinarians and pet stores. One of the clinics had initiated rescuing turtles after being inspired by youngsters and that action evolved into a provincial project.  An early project was signage to warn motorists on where turtles liked to cross the highway.  Turtles don't move very fast and are often difficult to see, so the result is a lot get hit.  As the shells are really bones many can heal if given the opportunity.

The odds of survival are bleak  something like 1% of eggs hatch and survive--the number of eggs obviously is part of their survival plan, but they do not increase their eggs when faced with a declining survival rate.

Turtles were recognizable 157 million years ago.  They breathe air, but lay their eggs on land.  The gender of the hatchlings are determined by temperature with hotter temperature increasing the number of females.  Mankind does not fully understand how different wild creatures fit into our ecology, but sea turtles are one of the few animals to eat sea grass which allows them to form a sea floor instead of just growing longer blades.  This is a breeding environment for many other aquatic animals.  Turtles commonly lay their eggs on sandy beaches.  The nutrition in the unhatched, abandoned eggs is one of the few sources proteins that allow dune vegetation to develop and in turn helps minimize erosion.

The greatest danger to turtles is the destruction of their habitat.  They live in wetlands.  As housing spreads more and more of their natural habitat is covered.   Climate change and pollution are a threat to turtles.  As the sea rises turtles will find it more difficult to find their ancestral egg nesting locations.  A rise in temperature could change the gender mix of the hatchlings.  Pollution of course amounts to poison for animals that (as suggested by Naomi Klein) can affect fertility.

Each species fits into the environment in ways we do not understand while we carelessly ignore them. An interesting feature of turtles is that apparently their organs do not deteriorate the way of most creatures (including humans).  Understanding their longevity better could benefit people.

If you have come across an injured wild turtle in Ontario call 1-705-741-5000.  Volunteers can give instructions of how to pick up a turtle and forward them to the Trauma Centre through 12 centres across Ontario.  To learn more you can go to their website is  They are concerned with education and conservation as well as treatment.  Many other parts of the world have turtle rescue organizations.

The photo is actually from a visit to Cuba in Jossone Park at Veradero.  I ended up buying one of my favourite T shirts in Cuba with an emblazoned turtle.

Monday, August 3, 2015

New Zealand Ponders a New Flag

Several years ago Canada had a debate about changing our flag.  As I recall I was in high school and teenagers can be enthusiastic about changes.  Some older folks either felt we should be happy with our British oriented flag or that the topic was too frivolous to waste time on.  We did get a flag and most Canadians feel it does symbolize us and gets us respect from the rest of the world.  We are no longer mistaken for a British colony.

New Zealand is undergoing their own debate that might not be wrapped up for a few years, but I would like to encourage them.   A flag is a symbol and is supposed to reflect your country's values.  At one time Canada had a reputation for peace-keeping, although some politicians are trying to undermine that, most Canadians probably feel more comfortable with a peaceful image.  Apparently American back packers in Europe have found things go smoother if they stick on a Canadian flag sticker than an American one.

Like another outsider, New Zealand has a similar impact on the world.  Like New Zealand, Canada was settled by Europeans and was dominated by English, after putting aboriginals in a subordinate position.  The French settlers were a proud people not willing to give up their language and culture and although everything is not smooth, the British did let them keep their culture.  The natives were never as unified as Maoris  with their power diffused in a multitude of languages spread over a much greater expanse of land.  Increasingly our country is multi-cultural and we realize that is one of our strengths.  In some ways our Maple Leaf is more to be found in the southern parts of our country, but everyone identifies with it.

An outsider cannot really design a flag for you as we really can't understand your values and traditions the way they impact your lives.  Before I went to New Zealand the one thing I associated with you was the kiwi bird.  I used to shine my shoes with Kiwi shoe polish which I understand was used to identify the founder of the company.  When I actually visited we looked all over for Kiwis and found lots of stuffed ones and finally found some real ones (in the National Aquarium  in Napier) but were told we couldn't use flash to take a photo.  We did enjoy the watching.

However before leaving I was struck with the symbolism of the fern and have since learned of a design called the silver fern.  At the Auckland Museum I was very mesmerized with the Reflection memorial with ferns prominently displayed.  I was also impressed with a Maori guide at the Waitomo Caves who talked about ferns.

Living in the northern hemisphere we don't think a lot about the southern hemisphere,  Our focus is on our northern brethren and it might be helpful to remind us there is plenty of life on the other side of the equator.  Perhaps the southern cross could serve that purpose..

An ideal flag is unique and symbolic of your values.  When us outsiders think about New Zealand (some more than others) we think of peaceful, resourceful people.  You might think some other attributes are more critical and can be captured in a unique symbol.  There is nothing wrong with a British connection as Canadians in general see our own connection as very positive, but we are different and so are you.  Some people think the red in our flag (and even the white) are what remains of the British link

Are there more important things to worry about?  Certainly there are--climate change, pollution, wars, inequality, the robotic revolution.  You can decide on a new flag anytime you want, but the sooner you do the sooner your own identity will enhance every thing else you do.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Rise of the Robots

You remember all those science fiction movies where robots run things?  They seemed pretty far fetched at one time, but lately not so much.  In the past various technological breakthroughs have disrupted business and society, but after a few adjustments our standard of living rose and everyone seemed to find a job that helped pay their bills.  Times are a changing.  Martin Ford helps explain in "The Rise of Robots."

You could always get a job maintaining the machine.  People would be paid enough salary they could afford to buy other things and keep  other people working.  We are rapidly evolving towards where less and less people are needed to even watch a machine and wages will not be enough to generate enough spending for other jobs.

To illustrate how the situation is progressing, Martin quotes from an American government study covering the years 1998 to 2013.  In that period when the American population climbed by millions and the GDP went up $3.5 trillion (allowing for inflation) but the hours worked were the same for both 1998 and 2013; 194 billion hours.

Computers can analyze immense details using the cloud and are becoming increasingly analytical, creative and replicable.  Their judgment is being considered more reliable in some cases than human judgment.  Artificial Intelligence has had many false starts, but is progressing.  Robots will have access to incredible amounts of information and have ever increasing abilities to sort through, analyze and make decisions.

Reading the news one can see future conflicts.  A much greater ability to automate fast food already exists, but has been put on hold partly for the availability of cheap labour.  With talk of minimum wages going to $15 an hour attitudes will change.  Automation also has the advantage of being perceived as more hygienic.  Education and health fields are perhaps the most difficult for automation, but already inroads are being made.

60 years ago some of my public school teachers were predicting a world taken over by robots, but they saw it as creating a leisure world for the masses.  Today the bottom line is that the robotic revolution will increase profits for those at the top while those at bottom will have great difficulty in getting a job and most jobs will have lower wages.  The rate of change is very likely to accelerate.

Martin Ford takes on myths.  Too many economists (and others) see a (distant) problem, but take it for granted that society will adjust with only minor concerns.

China is supposed to pick up the consumption slack, but with one child policy they are aging rapidly--women are scarce and men have to save up money to attract marriage partners.  They too are replacing cheap labour with robots.

Demographics with aging population will release job opportunities for the young.  Actually robots have been snapping up opportunities faster than graduates are available.   In Japan with the most aging population, robots are becoming critical.  A personal investment in Honda was predicated strongly on this idea as they are among the world leaders in robotics.

Education is not the solution envisioned by politicians.  First most jobs are repetitive and computers are taking over more and more tasks not only of the repetitive jobs, but now encroaching on the territory of professionals.  In fact we also have is credential creep, meaning education is just moving the bar on job qualifications without actually being necessary for performance.

While some are touting the role of the job creators others see a different reality.  Investors and business owners are looking to minimize the cost of labour.  Off shoring is only one concrete indication and robotics is an even bigger force.  When people lose a job, when their wages are diminished, when the future seems uncertain (job creators are supposedly concerned about uncertain regulations), when credit dries up, people stop spending.  When that happens business slows down.  A more basic problem become how to distribute purchasing power.

Henry Ford is credited with paying his workers enough in wages to actually buy one of his cars.  Robots don't buy anything, although they do consume maintenance.

The author's suggested remedies will run up against the party of the status quo, otherwise known as Republicans (and they have their counterparts in the rest of the world.)  Change is discomforting to the status quo, even though we are all part of the change.  Those at the top want to stay on top, those on the bottom are scrambling not to lose their ranking in the pecking order.

Guaranteed income in one form or another should be adopted.  It needs to be set to be liveable, but not to eliminate incentives.  Martin suggests education could warrant higher pay, even if just to have more productive leisure time.  Taxpayers contributed to research leading to technology innovations  ( and that fact can help rationalize the guaranteed income as a dividend.  A safety net does not just make some people lazy, it also gives others the confidence to take a risk that could result in necessary innovation.

Martin refers to Thomas Piketty's book and adds that robotics could just accelerate inequality.  Read more:

Those in power have never been in a better position to consolidate their power, but many concerned citizens and voters can impose a different perspective.  Unemployment (and under employment) are top of mind for voters and vested interests can manipulate government bodies to bend to their will.  At the same time climate change can be tackled without losing a lot of jobs (but losing profit for those invested in fossil enterprises), but again can end up being part of legislative blockage.  A lot of choices to be made.  We all need to be better informed.  This book deserves a lot of attention.