Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 A GREAT YEAR FOR MOVIES

In truth, many movies are time fillers and a few seem like a total waste of time.  To appreciate quality you have to endure something less than high quality.  A good percentage of the over 300 movies I watched were enjoyable.  Those of you with different tastes may find something worth your while.

"Our Brand is Crisis," gives a back door look at how decisions are manipulated.  Sandra Bullock making a statement as she wanted to do it, not just for the money or contract obligation.  She plays a difficult to like person, but very well working for a Latin American election.

"Trumbo" http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/trumbo-and-black-list.html  told about the blacklisting era in Hollywood.  It is humorous in parts, but on a very serious topic  Later in year watched "Spartacus" where Trumbo was once again able to use his name.   Also watched "He ran all the way" another movie where Dalton used a front man, but wrote the script.

"Spartacus" reviewed after over 50 years after first watching, and again after"Trumbo" and learning this was one of his breakthroughs.  A great movie--well written.  all star cast Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov.

"Lion" was an inspiring story about tracing what would have been untraceable a decade or so ago.   2 Bollywood stars in very small roles.  Some of the scenery was filmed in Tasmania.  Dev Patel, the main character also appeared in "The Man Who Knew Infinity" another enjoyable movie.

"Hell or High Water" contained a lot of violence, but underneath it was a well written story of a family trying to stick together against human weakness and greed



"The Zookeeper's Wife" another excellent movie with Jessica Chastain.  She contributes to the movie's excellence, but she makes good choices.

"Arrival" directed by Quebecker Denis Villaneuve is told in an inventive style.  Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner perform well in a thought provoking science fiction drama.  What common grounds will we find with aliens.



"Split" acting tour de force with a few twists.  James McAvoy plays a man with over 20 personalities who kidnaps three young women.  Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

"The Girl on the Train" after reading the book my expectations were high.  Emily Blunt didn't let me down and it must be admitted it was suspenseful and layered.  But to read the book is to get much more depth.  Ever the complaint of those who read the book first.

"Snowden" is  a traitor or a whistle blower- or maybe misguided.  I found him very observant and conscientious with a message we need to pay attention to.

"Free State of Jones" presented a mostly forgotten bit of Civil War history including a different perspective than was taught to me in school. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/free-state-of-jones.html

"Hidden Figures" was viewed as the Charlotesville Riots were happening.  It is a shame that too many whites feel threatened by blacks.  This movie, based on true events depicts blacks overcoming ignorance to the benefit of all.  Their capabilities might actually make blacks seem more threatening to some, but at the same time take away the notion that they are inferior.  Well produced.

"A Monster Calls" is not a movie for young children.  Deals with an impending death and is very well done.

"Lady MacBeth" seen at the Hamilton BMO International Film Festival and bears little resemblance to Shakespeare's play.

"Miss Sloane" probably suffered at the box office for being too close to how lobbyists actually operate. A great combination of politics and a twist ending. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/miss-sloan-under-rated-movie.html

"The Crucible"  by Arthur Miller was inspired by the hysteria of Joseph McCarthy.  Demonstrates injustice when mobs take over.

With "Frida" I enjoyed the biography, acting of Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina and music (done by husband of director and given his own commentary on the DVD).  Later read that Salma Hayek was pressured by the infamous Harvey Weinstein during the filming.  This was a project very dear to her heart and she persisted and resisted to make it an outstanding movie and a tribute to Frida Kahlo.

"The Normal Heart" depicts the beginnings of the Aids epidemic when no one knew what it was or how it was spread.  It was associated with gays, most of them in the closet,but the epidemic proved  a big factor in Gay Liberation.  A little too explicit in parts, but realistic. Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bonner and Juliet Roberts played historical figures.

Just before Christmas I watched "Dunkirk" on a small screen, but admittedly this one deserves the big screen.  The story is an old one, but not appreciated this far down the road in history.  The Germans had forced their European opposition into a corner.  There were over 400,000 allied soldier barely holding on in Dunkirk and it looked like Britain was finished.  The movie depicted the strategic choices made, but also the individual battles on land, sea and air that allowed this most strategic retreat to give Britain and the whole "free world" another chance to overcome tyranny.  Very well done.

"Maudie" was about a famous folk artist in Nova Scotia.  My daughter went to school in Nova Scotia and we became aware of Maudie.  Well played by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.

From New Zealand, "The Dark Horse" based on a story of a man from mental institutions who helps poor Maori youth develop a focus on chess.  Mental illness plays a very big role.

Documentaries get right down to the facts, but of course one has to consider how creditable they are and how relevant.  In some cases they are just as dramatic as fictional movies, but mostly they are sobering.  The ones listed below and in foreign categories all seem relevant and creditable.  Imagination is great, but facts are critical.

"Elian"  was a documentary to cover Cuban/American relations.  The events were manipulated for political purposes.  Lots of details I never knew or had forgotten.  It was very emotional at the time with many Americans not respecting international family law.

"Freedom's Furies" was about the reaction of the Hungarian water polo team to Soviet repression during the Hungarian Revolution.  It had two personal connections--Hungarian refugees did cross my life in several ways plus I had in interest in water polo through my daughter.

"Red Army"  would appeal to hockey fans, Canadians and Russians and most sports lovers.  The Russians were very good for the game of hockey. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/the-red-army.html

Zero Days (2016) is frightening.  Stuxnet attacks have been hidden, but apparently Israel and United States developed a cyber weapon strategy and Israel jumped the gun to attack Iran.  It stunned Iran, but they recouped and now have a similar ability as now does Russia and North Korea.  It is terrifying because it is subtle and difficult to detect.

"An Inconvenient Truth Sequel" is a reminder that in many ways the climate crisis has gotten more serious despite increased efforts to deal with it.  The vested interests have used their resources to resist.  More at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/11/an-inconvenient-sequel-truth-to-power.html

"Score " was devoted to the men and women who write the music in the background.  Lots of movies have catchy melodies, but this documentary reveals a more important role in capturing the mood and enhancing action.  This helped start blog on movie music:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/02/music-and-movies-part-one.html

"Red Lines"  trying to sort out the mess that is Syria..  Two activists were frustrated that they were unable to get any foreign help.    Truly frightening to see so many dead bodies, many of which were children.  Mistrust was everywhere.  Obama was portrayed as indecisive, but I feel the movie did not do justice to the Congressional mess.

SUBTITLED MOVIES

If you really like movies you owe it to yourself to take a closer look at what the rest of the world has to contribute.  There are a lot more subtitled movies to read about in this blog, but that is mostly due to the fact there are a lot more to watch and I find many of them well worth an extra effort.  Perhaps I am a bit preachy, but here is my pitch: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/09/do-subtitles-scare-you-who-knows-what.html

Bollywood, is one of my obsessions, but it turns out there is much more to films coming from India.   "Sairat,"the best of the year, with the cover photo at top.   It was produced in the Marathi language and is beautiful in music and cinematography.  The story seems stereotypical in the beginning, but the second half the story turns grim in a very realistic manner.

Widening my scope I saw a number of movies from India with different languages.  'Interrogation,' 'Thithli', "Nila," were each excellent and available on Netflix.   "OK Kanani" was the original Tamil version that was copied by Bollywood, but after seeing the two of them, the Tamil version is much superior.  Another highly rated movie, "Wrong Side Raju" is the first Gujarati film for me and was very impressive for plot, music, cinematography.  read more at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/regional-films-from-india.html

"Dangal" had an odd subject for a blockbuster movie, but the public has taken to the story of the daughters of a wrestler.  Very popular in China.  Anything Aamir Khan is involved is guaranteed to have quality.  The story is very well told and the actors at all levels are very good.

"Hindi Medium"  Irrfan Khan again this time focusing on education in India.  The private schools favors the rich.

"Newton" was nominated for India's entry for the 2018 Oscar foreign film award.  About an election worker in a hostile territory raising concerns for anyone wanting to promote democracy this gives food for thought.

"Toilet, Ek Prem Katha" has an odd premise, a man's new wife leaves him when she learns they do not have a toilet.  The Indian government has a major campaign to put more toilets available (http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/11/world-toilet-day.html), but getting the toilets built is only part of the problem.  Cultural resistance has made modernization difficult.  This movie deals with it in a very entertaining way.  Another one for Akshay Kumar, a friend to the Harpers.  Bhumi Pedneker was good as the female lead.


"Mom" was a different kind of movie for Srivedi.  A revenge movie with a few twists.  Sridevi plays a step mother who is not accepted by her step daughter who gets gang raped.  Not able to find justice in the courts she with the aid of a private detective takes revenge.  There is a police officer (who does not play by the rules either) is on to her and later one of the targets is as well.  She is excellent and well supported by the other actors.

"Madaari" was still another film about political corruption.  Corruption is not personal, it is part of the structure.  The protagonist says he is an ideal voter; too busy to study who to vote for.  Irrfan Khan  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/madaari-open-movie-about-government.html

I watched my favorite actor, Shah Ruk Khan in three movies.  "Raees" with a Pakistanni leading lady and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.  "Dear Zindagi" had Shah Rukh Khan playing a pscyhologist with Alia Bhatt as a patient.  Gauri Shinde ("English Vinglish") was involved as writer.  A good role for Shah Rukh transitioning from leading male lover to an advisor for young women   On the other hand I also saw "Jab Harry met Sejal" where he romanced the younger Anushka Sharma.  Shah Rukh Khan is always charming, but he needs to get roles more suitable for his age   He is still my favorite and most enjoyable actor to watch.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/madaari-open-movie-about-government.html

"Rangoon" was enjoyed by me more than most critics.  Interesting subject; Indian freedom seekers allied with Japanese during World War II.   Good acting, music, cinematography.

"Jolly LLB 2" had a very interesting script.  Akshay Kumar  is becoming the most certain box office success bet.

"Kaabil" with Hrithik Roshan is a very light hearted romance at beginning then a brutal revenge story with a blind man outsmarting his enemies.  Unfortunately Yami Gautam is killed off to make way for the revenge plot.

"Kahaani2' was a bit of a disappointment, but only because the original "Kahaani" had one of the best twists ever.  "Kahaani 2" was an above average suspense movie, just not as unique as the original.  No continuation from the first except Vidya Balan starred.

"Kanoon" (1960) a mystery, but with a strong plea to abolish capital punishment

"The Ghazi Attack" first submarine movie for Bollywood.  An opportunity to create tension.  Based on real events it is like a chess game, but with lots of stress.

"Trapped" has been compared to"Castaway," but with a twist.  The protagonist was a vegetarian trapped in an empty apartment.  Very ingenious how he survives.

"Poorna" watched without the benefit of sub titles.  Well worth it--maybe 20% of the words were in English and I am sure I missed some subtleties.  Raul Bose was the force behind it.  Proves the value of education and motivation.  Poorna was a 13 year old who was the youngest girl to climb Mount Everest.   Excellent cinematography and background music.  Very inspiring.  Had a positive impact on social welfare.  Even some singing from Arijit Singh.

"Phillauri" is a romance, in fact, two parallel romances, one with fantasy elements.  Second producing film for Anushka Sharma and enjoyable.

"The Salesman" won foreign Academy award directed and written by Asghar Farhadi--pleased to learn he is working on a Spanish producton with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin that I look forward to in 2018.  All three actors are among the world's most impressive in my opinion.

From the Japanese I was glad to watch "Our Little Sister' by writer/director Hirakazu Kore-eda who did  another great family drama, "Like Father, Like Son."

From Sweden "The Emigrants" (1971) and "the New Land' (1972)  in succession was quite the endurance test, but very memorable. Read more http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/the-emigrants-in-new-land.html

"A Man Called Ove" cautions us not to judge people.  We see a grumpy old man nitpicking, but as the movie progresses we see a different man.  Rolf Lassgard played a key role in my favourite movie, "After The Wedding." http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/a-man-called-ove.html

A fourth Swedish movie, "The Last Sentence" (with low ratings from IMDB) is a very interesting movie.  It is biographical on Torgy Segerstedt who was adamantly opposed to Hitler in writing.  Sweden was neutral while it had seen its neighbors Norway invaded by the Germans and Finland by the Russians.  The behind the scenes feature narrated by Jan Troell's daughter was very revealing in her description of the pursuit of perfect details that might not appear in the finished project.  Jesper Christensen was Danish and language was a big concern, but Troeel considered him the ideal choice for the lead role.  New history (for me) plus an open adulterous relationship to demonstrate Torgy was very human and I am left with his quote, "No human can withstand close scrutiny."
 



Italian,  "The Leopard"  Burt Lancaster dubbed--Garibaldi; "Twice Born" between Italy and Bosnia--surprised to learn that Penelope Cruz had learned Italian in order to act in previous film--fluent in special feature  "Paisan" (1946)

Dutch:  "Antonia's Line" was a most unusual film--a variety of characters and circumstances--lots of philosophical views--importance of friendship and love sex (multiple couples to music)  Read more at http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/antonias-line.html saw "Within the Whirlwind"

The Hispanic film world gave me opportunities to watch good movies on several fronts.

"The Mystery of Happiness"  interesting about business partners who were very close on the job and enjoying some activities, but never mixed up family life--one disappears prompting the wife of the missing partner to get involved with the business and searching for her husband--where do you find happiness.   The lead appeared in the Argentine version of "Corazon de Leon."

Spain  "Julieta" (2016) directed and written by Pedro Almodovar, but inspired by three stories of Canadian writer Alice Munro.

"Corazon de Leon"  (Heart of a Lion) seen on Netflix from Colombia--really likeable characters, a black divorced lawyer and a short divorced architect--prejudice (short people, blacks and deaf)--pleasant music--it took a bit of research to learn that Marlon Moreno is over 6 feet tall and had been miniaturized to be 4'6" for the movie.   An outstanding performance by Maria Nela Sinisterra who was very charming, but also demonstrated a range of emotions.  Shah Rukh Khan is to be in a movie as a dwarf next year, but I think with a different plot.

Another one from Colombia was "Maria Full of Grace."  stunning talented lead actress.  Song by favorite, Julieta Venegas.
"
Chile, "The Club"  blunt movie about abusive clergy--the words may be difficult to stomach.  The same director as for "No"
A documentary from Chile, "Nostalgia for the Light" forced a philosophical insight by juxtaposing a renown telescope site in the Atacama Desert with women sifting through the sand looking for remains of their loved ones that had been murdered and dumped in the desert.

From Korea-"The Handmaiden" with clever plot (borrowed from English tv series) well executed, beautiful cinematography capturing some gorgeous scenery, beautiful acting--a bit too sexual for many, but part of the plot.   Really beautiful music

"Sunny" is about a rejected wife who chases her husband who has been sent with the Korean army to Vietnam.
Another touching movie was "My 11th Mother."

"Okja" a joint project between the U.S. and Korea with elements of fantasy.  Produced by Netflix

I watched a lot of Russian movies and recalled a number of masterpieces from past years.  One that prompted by this project that made an impression was "Battleship Potemkin" made in 1925, obviously without sound and in black and white  Amazing what was done with the resources available  Also enjoyed "Sibiriade," a massive movie about settling Siberia and "Solaris" which presented the real essence of science fiction.  Read more at:
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/08/russian-movies.html

French Canadian, "La Derniere Fugue"  grimly realistic--life and death decisions guilt--piano themes from Bach--regrets--marital tensions see more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/03/la-derniere-fugue.html
"Laurence Anyways" about a transgender transition--told from the man who always wanted to be a woman and his female lover who felt betrayed.

German:  'Labyrinthe of Lies" set in 1958 with most Germans, denying links to Nazis.
"Toni Erdman" If you are bothered by male and female full frontal nudity you might want to skip this, but you would be missing a movie that will make you laugh and cry (sometimes at the same time).  Really well done.  A fair amount of English dialogue.

French--thought of as a filler--"Rebellion" originally "L'ordre et la morale" is set in New Caledonia in 1988 when a few Kanak natives rebelled and took French soldiers hostage.  It was just before a French election and it was deemed critical to end the crisis as soon as possible.  The director played the key role of a man who wanted to negotiate recognizing the natives wanted independence.  A little bit of action, but mainly dealing with political pressures and how they could undermine negotiation.
Normally I avoid movies with low ratings from IMDB, but picked up from library.  "The Mark of Angels" with Gerard Depardieu and Joey Star--violent in parts, but an interesting plot, believable acting well put together.  One of the contenders for most undeserved low rating.

Over the years I have enjoyed watching a number of mini series.  They have the power to go into more depth than a two hour movie, but they don't have to drag on.  This past year I enjoyed "Shetland" and "River."  "The Crown," and "Line of Duty.:"  "13 /reasons." " Broadchurch" (with David Tennant) and "Doctor Foster."

My selection of photos and of links does indicate some difficult preferences, but does not necessarily reflect what would interest you the most.  As with most lists it just helps make you aware of some works of art that might be of interest.  You have to sort through them and your resources.  There are plenty of good and enjoyable movies I will never see, but I enjoy the search.

Check out my year end movie review from last year:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/12/film-memories-from-2016.html

Enjoyable reads from 2017


This may seem like a fairly long list, but it is nothing to all the books I wished I could have read.  Some of the ones left out were just as worthy.  Maybe one or two might catch your fancy.

FICTION TITLES

"Underground Airlines" is alternate history with some thoughts to ponder.  It also is my most popular blog, including all topics this year.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/underground-airlines.html

"Homegoing" points out two ways Africans came to America, in this fictional case starting from Ghana.  One way was through slavery, but the other one was successful more modern immigrants.  A good read.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/homegoing.html

"The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon" is part of a series starting with the "The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency."series by Alexander McCall Smith  Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/the-minor-adjustment-beauty-salon.html

The Underground Railroad, won a Pulitzer Prize and is another interesting take on African Americans escaping the south.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/05/the-underground-railroad.html

"Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings" is historical fiction that fills in some very interesting speculation,  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/06/thomas-jefferson-and-sally-hemings-make.html

The Cuban Affair--family tradition I have been to Cuba as a Canadian tourist  friendly people, but in addition I married into a family related to the author.
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/05/tribute-to-nelson-demille-real-writer-i.html


"The Best Kind of People" was the selection for Hamilton Reads and had also been a Heather's Pick.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/08/the-best-kind-of-people.html

"Indian Horse" is a book I read a second time as it become a selection of the Burlington Public Library  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/indian-horse-by-richard-wagamese.html

Jane Austen amazes me with her understanding of people, even if they are mainly land owners and respectable professionals.  I re-read "Northhanger Abbey" which like her other books are well worth reading.

"See you in September" by Facebook friend Charity Norman.  Hard to put down.  As in most books I enjoy very layered format where you learn details that explain events.  This one deals with how a cult recruits new members and how one family reacts.  Check out an update on Charity:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/02/charity-norman-discovery.html


NON FICTION SELECTIONS

"Homo Deus" one of the most profound books I have ever read.  Thank goodness it also comes with a good dose of humour. This book should be read by everyone who wants to understand where humans have come from and where we are headed.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/04/homo-deus.html


"White Trash" deals with racism, but also links it to America being a class society where everyone has someone to look down upon.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/white-trash.html

"Hillbilly Elegy" wrote about another minority group.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/03/hillbilly-elegy.html

"The Content Trap" provided a new slant on what makes a difference in disseminating ideas.  For those mystified about modern communications.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/04/the-content-trap.html

"The Political Mind" by George Lakoff reminds us of the power of words and how they can impact everyone.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/george-lakoff-wants-to-reform.html

"Old Age:  A beginner's guide" has a scary title, but the reality most of us wish to avoid is sometimes spurred by something unexpected.  The  author got Parkinson's at n early age and rethinks his view on life and death    http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/03/old-age-beginners-guide.html  Lots for everyone to ponder.

"We were Eight Years in Power." interprets American history as tinged with racism.  A lot of historical facts that are well worth considering:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/12/we-were-eight-years-in-power.html

"A World in Disarray" by Richard Haas gives a view of diplomacy and power in the wordl  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/06/a-world-in-disarray.html

"War" got my attention after watching Gwynne Dyer speak I wanted to read one of his basic books.  Most of his newer books are column based. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/06/war-as-explained-by-gwynne-dyer.html

Plum Johnson book, "They Left Us Everything' brought back some memories.  Many years ago I came across a newspaper, Kids Toronto and was impressed.  At the time I was working for a distribution company and I approached her to try to sell our services. She was too smart for me, but I came to respect her more.  Pleased to find she had written a book covering her life experiences and found her even more interesting.


The Happiness Hypothesis:  What could be more important?  The author is one of the best writers for really important issues.  If happiness is high on your priority list check this one out.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/10/are-you-interested-in-happiness.html

Born a Crime  If you have heard Trevor Noah's comedy routine this will give you a bit of his background and help explain where his sense of humour comes from:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/10/born-crime-beginnings-of-trevor-noah.html

The 100 Year Life  --the younger you are the more important are the issues presented in this book.  If you are pondering retirement it still is worthwhile to better understand how the future is shaping up.  Lynda Gratton has another winner.
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/11/the-100-year-life-how-to-make-most-of-it.html

A World of Three Zeros--may seem idealistic, but has some experience and should be discussed.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/12/a-world-of-three-zeros.html  

I am interested in what books other people (no one more worthy than my readers) think are worth reading.

To read the reviews from 2016 check here:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/12/books-i-am-glad-i-read-in-2016.html

Sunday, December 17, 2017

We Were Eight Years in Power

Donald Trump is adamant--the Obama years were a "disaster."  Objectively that seems ridiculous, but for some people it masks a streak of racism in America.

Ta-Nehisi Coates articulates that racism is firmly established in America.  His title actually comes from an earlier time after the Civil War at the time of Reconstruction when in South Carolina, blacks for an 8 year term had real power and were able to accomplish some constructive things.  Their feats were dismissed, twisted and mocked.  Despite a lot of problems and maybe some justified criticisms Obama also accomplished a number of things in his eight years that made Americans better off, but the legacy is being deliberately destroyed.

The book contains essays that were first published in The Atlantic over an eight year period, but each is preceded by some more up to date personal context.  Coates is very introspective continuously trying to determine his own motives.  As with most of us his thought evolves.  The articles by themselves advance his thesis.

To those who believe the evils of slavery are history with no consequences you should read my post on "The Half Has Never Been Told.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/12/the-half-has-never-been-told.html  Coates brings up a wide range of statistics that prove his point, but he makes an honest effort to be balanced.

Coates points out that Americans love to tell the world about how important freedom is and how they are so great because of democracy, but in fact their freedom and economic growth was largely based on land stolen from natives and slave labour.  The Greeks also owed part of their democracy to slavery that allowed the elite to ponder the decisions of the day.  While Coates and other blacks contend the bigger problem is racism they have to contend with the notion that class might be a more critical problem.

Reparations are discussed, even trying to figure out an amount, but concedes nearly impossible to impose.  The established whites overlook how they accumulated their power.  Income is important, but accumulating wealth gives more choices.  One way of accumulating wealth has been through housing.  Blacks were deliberately obstructed in trying to build wealth in this manner.  Today affirmative action is attacked as if everyone really has the same opportunity.

Another way to advance oneself is through families.  The slaveholder mentality carried on even after the Civil War when whites found excuses to incarcerate blacks and turn them into cheap labour.  In more modern times blacks still easily run afoul of the law and are disproportionately incarcerated. This continues to force families to survive often with the breadwinner in jail or unable to get a viable job after release.  Coates points out how this aggravates an already difficult situation.

He feels Obama was in a very unique position to be the first black president.  He lived a life with loving white grandparents and was given opportunities to advance his education.  Obama felt it was not politic to criticize whites for past injustices, but to appeal to their better nature.  Do not be a threat.  Earlier in the book Coates talked about Bill Cosby who became a very popular tv star and perhaps encouraged more whites to accept blacks.  Of course Cosby's name is derided now, but by not being threatening he became very successful.  Later he became very critical of fellow blacks who he felt were not doing the right things.

Obama and Seth Myers joked at the expense of Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner.   Some observers felt the humiliation is what motivated Trump to run for president and not merely replace Obama, but to destroy his legacy.  Too many whites found it difficult to accept that a black man could make a significant contribution to America.  Now the whole world suffers.

Coates ends his book with:  "I see the fight against sexism, racism, poverty and even war finding their union not in synomity, but in their ultimate goal--a world more humane."

To learn more about the author, Ta-Nihisi Coates check his website http://ta-nehisicoates.com

Monday, December 4, 2017

"A World of Three Zeros" a plan for a better world

We in the rich part of the world don't usually seek advice from poorer parts of the world, but Mohammad Yunnus, the Nobel Peace prize winner from Bangladesh has good credentials.   To some he might seem naive, but in fact he has operated under very difficult circumstances and accomplished what some feel are miracles.

Yunnus was educated in Bangladesh and the United States becoming  a teacher and at one point saw the need of poor women in rural Bangladesh.  Using his resources he started loaning small amounts of money with no collateral.  He established the Grameen Bank in 1983 and it has been replicated in over 100 countries  Surprisingly the rate of re-payment was over 97%.  It turned around local economies and over time got global attention.

Capitalism is worshipped by many people, but if we are honest it has problems.  Under its frame it is inevitable that despite all efforts to restrain it, it leads to income inequality.  It is not hard to see why when you consider that rich people tend to set the rules, a process you can witness with the United States Congress.  It is true that in general most people are better off than people of a century ago, but the gains have been very uneven and many would argue not as closely linked to merit as would be ideal.  Yunnus doesn't think the problem is so much distribution as underlying premises.

One of the academic foundations of capitalism is "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith, written in 1776.  It rationalizes capitalism declaring it is only by catering to the will of what people want that gives us the beauty of free market business.  Not noted as much is another book by the same Adam Smith, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments."  Yunnus quotes Smith, "How selfish soever man may be supposed there are evidence some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortunes of others and render them happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it."  Self interest is too often interpreted to mean profit or selfishness, but could be expanded to include our long term collective happiness.

The three zeros that form the author's goal are zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.  Might seem the goals are in conflict, the author maintains they reinforce one another.

Social business is defined as meeting a need, developing sustainability, but not great profits.  Sustainability is necessary and Yunnus discusses some examples of how has worked.  One project was Haiti Forest to remedy the great need for forestation.  Money was brought in by the Clinton foundation and Branson Virgin Unite, but is generating benefits through jobs and an improved environment.  They plant one million trees per year.

Another project was in Colombia and involved McCain noted for potatoes in Canada.  One concern was the number of potatoes that were misshapen and ended up being wasted.  Researchers looked for ways to turn these ugly vegetables into something useful  One solution was to use them for soup.

Good governance is essential.  One function Yunnus feels is credible elections.  Criteria should be set up and might be enforced by the United Nations.  Some nations have already sought the services of groups such as the one started by Jimmy Carter that give their election greater acceptance.

Corruption is identified as a critical obstacle.  Yunnus posits that transparency engineered with technology is one tool and another is education.  I think both ideas have merit, but corruption is very basic to humans.  A movie has dealt with the inevitably of corruption and also one hero's solution. You might want to explore the notion: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/02/madaari-open-movie-about-government.html

Yunnus feels the future will be shaped by today's youth, many of whom reject both capitalism and socialism.  They are better educated, diverse and globally connected.  The poor will have to be involved.  Almost always they are at the end of technological developments

The purpose of life on this planet is not merely to survive, but live in it with grace, beauty and happiness.  It is up to us to make it happen.  We ca create a new civilization based not on greed, button the full range of human values.  Let's begin to-day."

John Maynard Keynes once said that the only purpose (of economics) is so that people could live "wisely, agreeably and well." He didn't restrict that to the rich, but felt income inequality was part of the problem. One of his most famous quotes is "..in the long run we are all dead."  Read more about Keyes at: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/04/book-on-john-maynard-keynes.html

To me an economic system has to be based on human nature and human aspirations.

Ayn Rand is often thought of as the high priestess of selfishness, but she did make one point I agree with which is that we should think long term more than short term of our interests.  Unfortunately I don't believe she thought about it in enough depth.   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/some-thoughts-on-ayn-rand.html

I do recommend the book. There are lots of ideas and experiences to ponder.   If such ideas are not examined and discussed there is little hope for humankind.