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

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  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


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


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: 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:

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


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:

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. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

FASCISM A Warning from Madeleine Albright

The former Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright has a history under fascism that she is reminded of under President Donald Trump.  The early sections on Mussolini and Hitler have many parallels to Trump.  Although she feels America can still redeem itself the warning should be taken seriously.  Her understanding, based on personal experience is well articulated.

The term Fascism has many interpretations, but includes authoritarianism and nationalism.  In modern times started by a small group in Italy after WWI who pledged to kill or die for Italy and adopted as a symbol elm rods bound together coupled with an axe called a fasces from Roman times.  Benito Mussolini a flamboyant speaker soon became their leader.

Mussolini originated the saying "drain the swamp."  To help consolidate his power he made deals with the Papacy and the monarchy.  By 1926 he was able to ban all competing political parties and even was able to control the Mafia.  Authority was emphasized over equality.  He started wars against Albania, Ethiopia ("the greatest colonial war in all history") and Libya.  In crowds he mocked foreign journalists.  He bragged about future growth, but had a poor understanding of economics.   He didn't trust advisors, instead relied on his instincts which he felt were superior

Hitler watched from afar admiring how Mussolini took control. He had been born in Austria but fought with the Bavarian army.  He was stunned by defeat and attributed it to Bolsheviks, bankers and Jews.  Hitler seized power in 1933 and required the army not to swear allegiance not to the country or to the constitution, but to him, Der Fuhrer.  He was pleased when foreigners criticized him as he visualized himself against outsiders.

Madeleine gives a little of her personal history.  She was a young girl when World War II broke out and her father was a diplomat for Czechoslovakia who fled to England to avoid the Nazis.  After the war he had been the ambassador to Yugoslavia, but her father sensed the Russian takeover in time to flee.  She explores several other parts of modern history including the Balkans, Venezuela, Turkey, Russia and Korea on a personal scale she had many of their leaders.

She had worked with the National Democratic Institute and involved herself with problems in the Philippines, Chile and South Africa.  In 2017 the United States was downgraded by the Economist's Democracy Index, not so much attributed to Donald Trump as a loss of confidence in institutions.  Too many citizens resented that the system seemed to protect the interests of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.  Madeleine feels "in a true democracy, leaders respect the will of the majority, but also the rights of the minority.  One without the other is not enough."

Democracy is helped by model leaders.  She mentions Abraham Lincoln in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.  Both men overcame lots of obstacles, but treated everyone fairly.

Madeleine is disturbed by some of Trump's words.  America first is not offensive in itself, but he projects a competitive atmosphere when there is great need for co-operation.  NATO should not be thought of as a business as it involves sharing training, intelligence and fighting.  Trust is critical.  His remarks against Muslims, allies and poor countries open up opportunities to enemies, especially China.  As most issues are complicated would be dictators offer simplifications.  Criticizing and insulting others appeals to those who feel aggrieved.  Avoid details that leave one open to attack.
Fascism is as easy as billionaires controlling the media, using influence to pick judges and restrict voting, shift public education to private and so forth.  Fascism can also come from leftist thinking.  Conservatives fear if the Liberals gain control they will discard the second amendment.

In concluding the book Madeleine suggests a series of questions that should have been asked of any candidate for president.  It appears not enough people asked Donald Trump or enough who listened for the answers.  Her warning should be heeded while it still possible to do something.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Municipal elections attract the least attention of the three levels of government.  Having participated in elections at all three levels I can say that in Hamilton, Ontario at least some things go smoother.  Yesterday I was deputy returning officer for the election for the city of Hamilton (Ontario).  At the end of the evening the actual vote count is known comparatively rapidly partly because they rely more on computers (but backed up by paper ballots).

Four years between municipal elections with a two hour training session plus manual to read.   One can get a little rusty.  I was asked to work at a by-election in another part of town (actually on what we call the Mountain). so that helped a little.  As I mentioned I have also worked at provincial and federal elections with many over lapping tasks, but each is also unique.

Patience is required.  Most voters do not understand the technical process.  As an example the returning officer is expected to check off a sequential number on one sheet and transfer it to the voter on the official list as one tool to help balance.  It is simple enough but when there is a long lineup and other problems pop up it might not get done properly.  Most voting is pretty regular and smooth, but there are lots of exceptions.

There is the voter who is not on the list.  There is the voter who is on the list, but unable to attend for a variety of reasons and assigns a proxy.  There are voters who do not speak English very well,  There is the voter who wants to make a change to their address, spelling of their name or their school support.  There is the voter who makes a mistake and wants a new ballot.  A few times I sent back a voter to get a form and they were anxious not to have to go back to the end of the line.  All this time we are required to maintain a level of privacy to each voter. 

It is not always busy, in fact sometimes it is downright boring.  You eat and visit the washroom when you are able, but that is not always predictable.  Some bring a book or knitting. Of course talking to your fellow workers is normal, but you cannot talk politics.  It can be very tiring and balancing at the end of the evening can be very frustrating.

I have worked at half a dozen elections, but this was the first where I was really in my neighborhood.  I met neighbors from only a few doors away from mine.  The most unexpected encounter was a man who had a connection to my wife's family.  I recognized his name only because a relative had given me his aunt's maiden name when I worked on a family tree years ago..  It turned out this man was her brother.  Although we had been fairly close to this family, even more than just at Christmas we had gone our separate ways.  I learned a little about my wife's cousins. and that we are all  more connected than we realize.

Municipal turnout is usually less than for the two higher level elections.  Residents in a town have more everyday contact with municipal services such as garbage, police, fire, parking, recreation facilities, snow plowing, street signs, etc.  A lot of higher level politicians have gotten their start at a local level, but at the time they are not nearly as well known.  Ironically it is possible to have an impact with a single vote, but somehow we are not engaged at the local level.

Checking over the results it is very common for someone to get elected with less than 50% of the vote.  Often there are some issues that create interest, but the winning factors seem to be related to how well connected a candidate is.  Incumbents have an advantage.  Any newcomer has to make an effort to draw attention.  In truth not that many people attend debates or other formal events.  Most newspaper descriptions are scant and superficial--everybody wants economic growth and better communication. 

The ideal is to get one candidate over 50%+1   Political parties deciding on who should lead their party mostly adopt that system.  The reason why is perhaps because they recognize that is the best way to have everyone accept the results and more importantly wiling to work as a team.  In many countries it is common to have a second election for a high office if the first does not result in 50%.  There is usually a time delay and of course expense.  Time delays can be important to get moving on ongoing projects, but perhaps a delay might be worth it to get the right decision makers in place.  Again expense is a concern, but admittedly democracy is expensive.

Elections have more credibility when more voters express their opinion (with the secret ballot), but it seems it is a difficult task to get everyone out.  Canadians have made it easier for voters at all levels to cast their ballots, but we still find it difficult to get out much more than half the eligible voters.  The reasons why are part of countless debates, but surely one problem is that many feel their vote won't make any difference in their everyday life.  Our first past the post system is one reason where in fact it is very common for the winner to have gotten less than half the votes. Politicians understand this and the clever ones with financial support certainly take advantage of it.  They end up representing you whether you voted for them or not.

Elsewhere I have advocated for a proportional system, but admittedly that works best when there is a well established party system.  Many people can be hurt to say they vote for the person, not the party, but that is hard to believe.  At the local level it is often said that party politics don't belong.  One reason might be it is desirable to give individuals with convictions an opportunity to express them.  Inevitably party politics do factor into municipal elections, but there is still hope they can be minimal.
Read more:

The idea of ranked voting is to get a decision that everyone can live with as soon as practical. When the winner might have less than 30% it seems unfair to dismiss the person who was only a small percentage behind with obviously other candidates factoring in.  As I understand one variation under a ranking system a voter can choose a second and third and even more candidates. If no one acheives 50%  the last place candidate is eliminated.  Their votes are transferred to their second choice.  If their second choice is eliminated then their votes are transferred to their third choice.  And so on until the goal of 50%+1 is reached.  A voter is not requited to rank everyone as it is recognized they might prefer a particular candidate be elected.

This can be much quicker and cheaper than going to a second round.  Voters have to decide ahead of time who might be an acceptable choice if their candidate doesn't go over the top.  No time for deals after the initial voting (unlike in political leadership conventions).  Some voters will see the advantage of researching the issues.  They might start off voting for someone who has indicated tey favour a particular solution to a perceived problem or they might vote for someone they have some favorable awareness of.  But what happens when their first choice doesn't measure up?

A country, province/state or municipality work best when the population supports those elected to represent them.  Like many I believe a better solution lies with the system.  One good sign was that a number of voters brought their children so they could see the process.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


The CBC has a mandate to foster Canadian culture.  A great idea to boost interest in Canadian books has turned out to be Canada Reads on their radio network.  They recruit celebrities willing to make a commitment to read all the nominated books and prepare to debate with other very smart people. The book sponsors can really make a difference in a showbiz atmosphere, but they are great books and many listeners will be tempted by different books.

The facilitator host is also important.   It is entertaining and has evolved to be more slick and enticing.  The comedian Ali Hassan was in charge and did a good job of keeping the action moving.   The theme for this year was Open a book to open your eyes.  The show draws attention to Canadian books that has to be encouraging reading itself.

Obviously the winner benefits, but so do the losers (they really are winners to get this far).  Unlike other  years I had not read any of the nominated books, but after listening and watching the shows I felt the selection was good enough to follow up.  Previous years I ended up buying some books, one to my dog owning daughter, "Fifteen Dogs" and both of Laurence Hill's books that won--"The Book of Negroes" and"The Illegal."

The first one I read was "Precious Cargo"  It is non fiction and has a few insights into who writers work.  The author Craig Davidson had some minor success early on, but had squandered the opportunity.  He was dirt poor and desperate for work.  When watching the discussion on my computer and/or the radio I was struck by how the champion kept bringing up the importance of people seeing disabled people differently.  The book is written from the perspective of someone who grew up with normal prejudices and attitudes towards the disabled and how contact changed him.  Craig had changed names and altered descriptions, but his passengers had a variety of physical, mental and emotional disabilities that put them in the special needs categories.

Most of us shun visibly or otherwise known handicapped people when it is practical, not realizing that in addition to their disabilities they tend to be socially isolated.  The author doesn't shy away from their social problems.

Craig points out that the whole universe is made of the same elements just constantly being re-arranged and creating new humans.  Only a very slight change in the process results in diversity, but also "glitches."

Greg Johnson the advocate was very passionate and towards the end of the contest announced he was sending copies of "Precious Cargo" and also "Marrow Thieves" to some schools in Saskatchewan as he wants the books read.

Jeanne Beker, a fashion commentator championed  "Forgiveness" the eventual winner and my second read, both non-fiction.

Mark Sakamoto had an Scottish grandfather and a Japanese grandmother alive as he started the book.  His one Grandfather grew up in Magdalen Island and ended up as a soldier in Hong Kong in December of 1941.  His Grandmother, Mitsue was born in Vancouver, but when World War II started she and her family were deported to Alberta and forced to live in almost desperate style.  They each had plenty of reason to distrust the other.  The Scots-Canadian after his tortuous prison experience took comfort from a Bible and was focused on Mark 11:25 where forgivenss is high-lighted.

Those were models for the writer.  The real forgiveness came in his own life.  I was pleased to learn that he had worked for Michael Ignatieff,  Read a review of his recent book:

"American War" was championed by Tahmoh Penikett, an actor and martial artist, perhaps the most passionate advocate taking the book to the final two.  Tahmoh had been born in the Yukon with an indigenous mother.  Omar El Arkad, the author was born in Egypt and raised in Qatar.  Omar ended up in Canada as a journalist sent to a number of global hotspots. The book projects to 2065 and 2075 after environmental disasters and the second American civil war splits the nation. Some southern states refused to move away from fossil fuels.  What is United States had broken off into three nations and book is full of torture, drone bombings  redacted reports  reflecting back on current affairs.   In civil war situations one of the first dangers is a deterioration in trust.

"The Boat People" was championed by Mozdakh Jamalzadoh, herself a refugee from Afghanistan and as a singer invited to perform by Barrack Obama.. This book was eliminated first day in a very close vote. The other books each were voted to be ousted, but this one got two votes.  Based on a real incident, but the official records have been sealed.    In any civil war many people are forced to make difficult choices and staying neutral is difficult.  It is not so strange that many are desperate to get away.  I read a review in NY Times by Ru Freeman, herself from Sri Lanka that was not as favorable as my opinion.  I had read a good book of Freeman's a year or so ago and respect her opinion on other subjects.

The book reminded me of a time in my life (over ten years) when I worked with newspaper carriers, many of whom were from immigrant families.  In some cases the adults were dependent on their children as translators and in many cases were suspicious of outsiders.  I found many of the youngsters wanting to be more like their non immigrant friends.  It always seemed ironic to me that the parents had sacrificed to give their youngsters a chance at a new life and did their best to guide their children to what they thought was best while all too often their offspring were resentful. 

Another facet was the racism portrayed in the book.  I recall the Harper government demonstrating an undercurrent.  They refused to hold a government query into violence against indigenous women.  The events in the book reflect some of what I heard during the Tamil crisis plus more recently Syrians.  However an earlier conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney stood up for refugees against public pressure.

On the front page was an endorsement from Omar El Arkad, one of the other contestant authors.

A link to another Canada Reads book ("Forgivenss") was that one of the main characters had a family history with the Japanese internment during WW II.

An over riding theme was Truth vs. Fear.  No matter how logical the advocates for refugees are there is an emotional element (FEAR) that is difficult to overcome.  A memorable quote, "Were these people dangerous?  That was the million dollar question."

Refugees are a global crisis and Canada has not always been as generous as we would like to assume. I have had some personal contact with Hungarian, and Vietnamese refugees.  The world is very turbulent with warring factions and ever developing climate change/

Jully Black, a singer I listen to championed "Marrow Thieves"  Written by Cherie Dimaline who is of Metis background living in the Georgian Bay area.  The book had won awards in the Young Adult category which surprised me.  Focus in a future after environmental disaster.  As material comforts disappear one item left is dreams, but only with indigenous people who flee to northern Ontario.   The dreams reside in their marrow.  Much of the story takes place near Espanol, Ontario..  Jully is sensitive to racial issues and was able to make a few points.

Next year I will try to get ahead of the game.  There is also a French version, but that might be too much of a challenge.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Cristian Mongiu, filmaker from Romania

Cristian Mongiu grew up in a Communist dictatorship with a fully developed secret police.  He managed to avoid military service by continuing his education, graduating with a degree in English literature.  He is fluent in English, French and his native Romanian.  He had little access to films in theatres, but in the 1980's with VCR he watched and shared many movies, even helping to translate some of them.  Like many Romanians he was aware of events in Europe mainly through Radio Free Europe, but was caught off guard by the 1989 Romanian Revolution.  He was in journalism at the time which underwent dramatic changes as the censor regime collapsed.

In the 1990's he decided to go to a film school.  There were no actual copies of most of the movies they were studying.  He felt his knowledge of films was very little when he graduated in 1998.

In 2003 Cristian formed Mobra Films with Oleg Motu and Hanno Hofer.  Hanno Hofer was a composer who did the music for two of Cristian's movies.  Oleg Motu was a cinematographer who supervised the camera work for many of Cristian's movies and had won some international awards.

"Occident" (2002) was Cristian's first film as director and writer.   It was a comedy about Romanian society.  It was nominated for the Cannes Film Festival.

"4 Months 3 weeks and 2 days" (2007) won the Palme d'or  (plus two other awards) at Cannes, but when it came to the Oscars it failed to make the short list.  This upset authorities and they instituted new rules.  Very emotional topic--abortion, specifically an illegal abortion.  It is not likely to change the opinion of many,   In Romania of 1987 abortion would result in a prison sentence or even worse.  We don't know the background but one room mate wants an abortion and the other agrees to help.  Somehow they contacted an illegal abortionist and soon find themselves being manipulated by him for more money.  They are already near the end of their resources, but push further.

 What shocks viewers is an explicit replica of a fetus with some recognizable human features.  It is only for a few seconds, but lets viewers know a life is lost.

Vlad Ivanov who plays the tough abortionist went on to act in "Graduation." and "Tales from the Golden Age" with Cristian.  Two other noteworthy Romanian film for him was "Police, Adjective" (2009 directed by Cornelius Pormboiu))  and "Child's Pose" (2010  directed by Calin Peter Netza) with  each winning two awards at Cannes He went on to an international career with  "Whistleblower" (2010),  "SnowPiercer" (20130 and "Toni Erdman" (2016).

Another actor, Alexandru Potocean was also in "Whistleblower"  Another international film for him was "The Way Back." (2010)/

"Tales from a Golden Age"  (2009) was written by Cristian, but used up several directors for different segments. .  Broken down to a number of short stories each of which highlights as aspect under Communist rule from a satirical perspective.  Among other motives it seems Cristian used his international fame to leverage more respect for Romanian film makers.  PHOTO

"Beyond the Hills" (2012) was originally inspired by an incident in a monastery, but it was decided to develop another story line.  It has been criticized as being anti-religious, but it is dealing with deep human emotions. The priest as portrayed as a honest man striving to do the right thing.  What drew the director/writer was the exorcism that resulted in a death.

This film was Cristian, the best script award at Cannes and best actress for Cristina Flutar.

Cristian had to seek more money and with that as he puts it, you get more "opinions."  Noteworthy with this movie he included the two Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and they also helped with "Graduation."

The DVD came with an interesting second disc with special features.  Sitting in a comfortable chair or couch and being entertained for about two hours one is not really conscious of all the work that goes into a film.  It started based on an actual event, but decided to not follow too exactly.  He did try to duplicate the landscape and buildings which required a long period of building so much that rehearsals started while construction was still in progress.  The film was set partly in winter which meant waiting for snow, but then they had planned to work through heavy weather but found that the cold was difficult.  He also demonstrated some of the details of adjustments.

Valeriu Andriuta  had appeared in "Occident" and while planning this film Cristian not quite willing to make a commitment was looking for Valeriu's type to play the priest.  The catch was he wanted the priest to have a traditional beard.  He had not seen Valeriu for several years as he had moved to Ireland and not been involved with acting.  Over the phone he asked Valeriu if had a beard and ironically he had ntil the day before when he had shaved it off.  Without a commitment he agreed to start growing one.  In the end he played a very convincing priest.  Valeriu also appeared in "Graduation" in a bit role.

"Graduation" (2016) dealt a lot with corruption, but Cristian indicates that the underlying theme is to do with parenting.  In society parents need to educate their children to the realities.  In Romania there is level of corruption that affects everyone. "We all complain in Romania about the level of corruption without understanding that we are responsible for it."  

It came out that Mongiu believes in many takes.  He explains that he is trying to maintain a precise emotion.  He invites the editor to the filming as part of the process.

At a forum (from special features) Cristian expressed concerns that there aren't enough theatres in Romania, large numbers having been closed.  He wanted to debut his film at the same tie as shown for the Cannes festival, but couldn't. He also felt viewers needed to be better educated to appreciate films that aren't "popular." Earlier" 4 months 3 weeks 2 days" was put on a tour.  The number of theatres has gradually increased, but Critsian still feels most Romanians see films as only entertainment whereas he feels they also can be more

In addition to writing, directing and directing his own films Cristian has produced  other films and television shows. Most recently a producer for a German-Romanian series, "Hackerville" (2018).

In response to a question at Cannes Cristian explained that there is always a story behind the action in the film.  We never exactly know what brought the characters to where we first see them.  He feels everyone is limited in their choices by their upbringing and education. 

Cristian, a frequent visitor to Cannes felt that Cannes helps to preserve smaller movies,(not the more popular blockbusters).  The world benefits from more diversity.

Romania is yet another country that offers the world worthy films.  Although Cristian is pre eminent he is not the only one and is supported by actors and technical people.

Friday, September 28, 2018


It is certainly "political."  Of course individuals can and should be evaluated.  This experience is very upsetting and I felt the need to vent my frustration.  In a few hours this story will advance with likely repercussions no matter what.

Some would take it back to Anita Hill's participation in an earlier hearing.  Times have changed, but it still seems the male viewpoint is still dominant.  I watched a documentary on that and felt her opinion didn't count for very much.  Most likely at least some of those in power felt it was not as important as getting a conservative on the bench.  Clarence Thomas was replacing a liberal black man, Thurgood Marshall.  They could have backed away and brought a different conservative to the Supreme Court, but the optics would not have been as good.  As it turns out Thomas is one of the most conservative judges.

A key part of the Republican strategy is to tie their economic agenda (which favors the top 1%) to a social agenda that appeals to enough one issue voters so they will overlook their own economic self interest.  Gun rights is one element.  Gay rights is another element.  I would say the most critical element is abortion.   To us progressives these also seem not in the best interest of the 99%.  It seems that significant parts of the 1% are more liberal, but they put their money into divisive issues as they know that will get them more favorable economics such as lower taxes and less regulations.

Gay rights is emotional.  Ironically some of the gay haters actually inter-act with gays, but ones who are still in the closet.  As more gays open the closet more of us realize they are not so bad or even abnormal.  From a distance, their increased acceptance is threatening to some.

Abortion is a repulsive thing for almost everyone.  Everyone has the right to refuse an abortion for themselves and can use persuasive powers on friends and family.  That is not good enough for many who want to impose their feelings on everyone else.  Some concede a few exceptions and in fact when it hits them they will arrange it under cover.  I, too see it as murder, but I do not think it is my right to forbid someone their right when they will suffer consequences.  To me the Republican conservatives are doing lots of counter productive things.  Contraception needs to be more accessible and sex education have proven to reduce abortions.  

Almost as important is their economic policies that favour the rich and cut back on a social safety net.

One other part of their strategy is to appeal to racist sentiments.  It helps to distract from the fact their policies hurt the poor.  A black or Hispanic person is the cause of the poor white man, not automation or outsourcing labour.  Everyone loses.

The social issues are most reflected in the Supreme Court.  They are the ones who legalized abortion and same sex marriages.  They also have given economic benefits to the very rich.  Probably the most effective pledge by Donald Trump was that he would put right thinking justices on the Supreme Court going so far as to promise future nominees would come from a list approved by conservatives.  I recall even a promise to overcome Roe v Wade.

When Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly it was only hours before Mitch McConnell declared that no Supreme Court nominations would be allowed so close to an election.  He had the power and realized this would appeal to the conservative base.  Barrack Obama selected Merrick Garland who was considered a moderate judge and older than the usual nominee.  It has become a strategy for both parties to pick younger judges as their influence will last longer.  These concessions made no difference to the Republicans.

In the run-up to the election it appeared the Democrats would indeed have a new mandate, but Trump realized the importance of the Supreme Court to his base and made that part of his platform.  A lot of other factors were critical to the result that to many diminish the justice of the election.  As mentioned in other blogs the Russians interfered, James Comey made some poorly timed and unnecessary announcements, gerrymandering and electoral College.  Earlier thoughts on that:

To replace Scalia without too much fuss Neil Gorsuch was confirmed.  He immediately adopted some conservative positions.

Anthony Kennedy decided he wanted to retire.  One detail not mentioned before is that his son worked Deutsch Bank and had been the one that approved millions of dollars in loans to Donald Trump when most banks turned him down.   Apparently they offered to nominate Kavanaugh who had been one of Kennedy's clerks.

Trump has the power and is sought advice on how best to fulfill his Supreme Court pledge.  Many names came up, but apparently Trump was struck by the fact that Brett Kavanaugh believed presidential powers could be expanded.  Trump had his own legal jeopardy and likely would want as much of a cushion as possible.

The Republicans certainly recognized the Supreme Court as a political objective.  They realized that the midterm elections were closing in and some recognized if they could put another young conservative on the court it would be appreciated by their base.  They also recognized there was a good chance they would lose control of the House of Representatives and possibly (but not likely) the Senate.  Some, such as Mitch McConnell felt that would be a worthy legacy.

A few details upsetting to progressives were uncovered (such as Kavanaugh's participation in the Bill Clinton impeachment and torture memos), but not enough for the Republicans to think of another conservative candidate.  A lot of controversy has been announced regarding the time it took for Christine Blasey Ford's accusation to reach the attention of the Senate judiciary committee.  Timing
did complicate the matter, but the Republicans in my opinion reacted unseemly.  Sexual assault victims want to forget their ordeal and in this case confidentiality was wanted.  Eventually she realized the Supreme Court decision would be made without the information.

The Republicans realized it would look bad if old white men questioned the victim so they hired an experienced woman prosecutor.   It is hard to be sure, but her strategy seemed to be to develop inconsistencies in the accusation.  It didn't work.  When it came time to question Kavanaugh they sidelined her and each made an attack not so much of Ford's testimony as on the Democrats' ethics.

Many thought an FBI investigation would be a logical way to eliminate doubts, but that was resisted by the Republicans.  Lindsay Graham yelled his disgust with the process.

I don't know what will happen over the next few hours, nor do I know what the truth really is.  My own politics suggests America is headed for problems one way or another.

What I suspect happened is that Brett Kavanaugh did get so drunk he doesn't remember what he did.  He took great pains to say he did not black out and did not forget what happened while he drank.  He would have been better to have admitted the possibility that he did something regrettable while drunk and would like to make amends.  No one has accused him of actual rape.  My opinion might be sexist, but I believe we should all get second chances.

From my reading of her facial and body movements and her words it was hard not to believe Christine Blasey Ford.  I make no claims of infallibility.  Not so likely she mixed him up with another person.  She said what she remembered most that Kavanaugh and his friend laughed at her expense.

In this additional test of his acceptability Kavanaugh did not do well.  If he was truly innocent or at least thought he was, it was natural for him to be angry.  He undercut his previous claims of not being political by his charges of Democrat trickery.  He even suggested it was revenge for the Clintons.

Many good points were made by the Democratic interrogators.  I was impressed by Kamala Harris who pointed out that the Democrats had gone through the confirmation process with Neil Gorsuch and that the two men paralleled each other in many regards except there were no sexual allegations in the former case.  Of course the Democrats had their own agenda, but they have fallen far behind the Republican power structure.

One way or another the Republicans are likely to get their Supreme Court and many of the people who voted for it will suffer, but probably blame someone else.  Future nominations will be even more political.  Trump and other Republicans suggested that future candidates would be reluctant to go through the process and this I admit is true.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Fifty Inventions that shaped the modern economy

Your favorite invention might not be included and the author doesn't pretend his choice of 50 inventions includes the most innovative or most impactful.  Tim Harford will make you conscious that society has been dramatically and subtly changed by a variety of innovations.  You might think of inventions as some sort of mechanical device and of course there are lots of them.  Tim goes into re-organizing principles.

The first invention really uploads civilization and is relatively simple  The plow which probably was inspired by the use of sticks to form furrows for planting seeds changed society in very profound ways.  It allowed fewer people to produce the food needed by the whole population allowing others to develop specialties.  Society was able to become more complex, but there was a cost. 

Winners and losers were created by each invention.  Luddites were known for smashing new equipment that threatened their jobs (true).  On the other hand most inventions have eventually led to better jobs as well as more satisfied consumers. In recent decades this has not been as true and many jobs have been lost.  In the future one can conceive that driverless vehicles threaten the livelihoods of millions of truck and taxi drivers.

One solution is the Welfare State.  Otto Bismark is credited with attempting to set up a welfare program, but not as successful as the one brought about by the Depression of 1930's.  Frances Perkins under the supervision of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Minimum wage, pension and unemploment benefits provided a safety net that contributed to economic progress.  Admittedly welfare can be abused, but another factor is that it slows down inequality.  One experiment the author points out took place in Dauphin, Manitoba in 1974-79.  Basic income cheques were given out.  Three results noted were that fewer teenagers dropped out of school; fewer people were hospitalized for mental illness and hardly anyone gave up work.   Recently in Ontario another basic income test was cut even after initial positive changes.

He recounts a series of what might be called convenience food including frozen tv dinners, fast food, and processed food that freed up time and energy from preparing meals.  This allowed mainly women to do other things including pursuing a career.  It also affected our nutrition and not always in a positive way.  It has provided a wide range of jobs from manufacturing, restaurants, marketing, etc.

The Pill led to more education and career advancement for women.  Until the pill became more accessible women did not start professions demanding a long education such as law and medicine.  This trickled down to other careers that had long been dominated by men.  Now most western societies have a  birth decline.

Air conditioners are the result of an effort to control humidity for printing.  Willis Carrier expanded his invention to air conditioners and applied to movie theatres which led to summer blockbusters.  It was soon realized that cooling work and study habitats led to more productivity.  They make a tremendous difference in hot climates, but there is a downside.  By pushing hot air away they help heat up the outdoors.  More importantly they require a lot of energy which in turn has environmental consequences. 

Elevators changed geography, but in a way were the result of transit improvements.  The two set of inventions made possible the concentration of high rise buildings where more workers could be assembled.  Air conditioners made work more productive in skyscrapers.  Before the elevator it was undesirable to live more than a few floors off the ground,  but afterwards pent houses were considered very prestigious.This pattern of one invention opening up the doors for additional inventions is a constant force.

Shipping containers were the result of efforts to standardize boxes for transporting goods between ships and trucks and rail.  Making them one size ends up cheaper and more efficient.  They allowed manufacturers to seek out low wages and minimal regulations anywhere in the globe.  On my trip to New Zealand I noticed (and used) a number of washroom usually in park area that were inside shipping containers making good use of available resources.

In writing about toilets and sanitation he explains a little human psychology.  Flush toilets were  a bit of a novelty when first introduced at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851. Back in 1775 a simple invention was the S bend that enabled to stop the waste smell from coming back.  What was really needed was a sewer system to collect the human waste and take it away from being able to contaminate our drinking water.  Unfortunately that is an expensive proposition that politicians are reluctant to suggest.  However once organized it was passed into law in only 18 days.  The speed was attributed to the fact that the Parliament was beside the Thames River which had become a depository for a great deal of smelly waste.

Toilets were slow to catch on and in much of the world still haven't.  The author says that despite the fact that it has external positives i.e. good for society), but people are more motivated by selfish desires.  As an example mobile phones have less external positives, but more selfish appeal; hence there are far more mobile phones in the world than flushing toilets.

Paper money was noted by Marco Polo after his travels in China where he was amazed that instead of sending metals to pay for bills they would authorize pieces of paper stamped with the emperor's approval to substitute.  The trick was not to convince buyers and sellers that paper (actually at this time made of tree bark) was as precious as gold or silver.  Instead the value came from the stamp of government approval.  Obviously much easier to transport.  Originally backed up by gold secured in a safe place, but today it is just declared legal by the government.  There has been a temptation to just print more money to overcome government debt but this has led to dangerous inflation and even the downfall of governments.  Today governments have gone one step further and that much money is not represented by paper (actually cotton or flexible plastic weaves) but digitally.

Harford covers many other inventions and explores their ramifications.  He also discusses ways to encourage more inventions.   Someone, somewhere is applying their imagination to solve some annoying problem and we will soon have to make an adjustment.  A lot to ponder.

A blog regarding how innovations can be destructive and are resisted for that reason:


According to some authorities sex is the second strongest driver of humans and it has been noted that some individuals have risked their life for sex.  Whether you believe in evolution or a creation designer you are aware that without sex civilization as we know it, would not survive.

An old joke perhaps learned from chauvinistic sales training is based on the question of the difference between rape and seduction.  The traditional answer has been "persuasion."  The modern answer has come to be "consent."

Biology and culture are both very focused on sex.  Try to repress this drive and there will be consequences, not all easily identified.  All cultures try to control it.  Yet at the same time the role of sex is acknowledged.  It is usually controlled by men who in some instances isolate their women (wives/concubines/mistresses, daughters and sisters) to protect them.  Rape laws originally were to protect male property rights.

I grew up  in the 1950's and 60's when before puberty, males were made aware of sex, made jokes about it and started trying to satisfy curiosity.  What females of our own age thought about it was a mystery, but we suspected they were impervious to it.  As we reached pubescence we could feel a physical drive reinforced by peer pressure.  Media awareness also contributed to it.  It was assumed that females would be resistant and we were vaguely aware that pregnancy would be a disaster, especially for girls, but also for boys.

A common analogy to dealing with the opposite sex was from baseball; going around the bases.  This might be an example of cultural pressure.  First base might be considered hand holding and second base might be a kiss and third base even more intimate contact and home plate would be intercourse.

Modern North American culture is much more liberated with much looser contact between genders but underneath the tensions haven't changed a lot.

Like most males I pushed when I thought I could until an objection was made verbally or physically.  At one point, again like many males I realized (with some surprise) there was a willingness to be intimate.  Even realized at one point they, as males do, felt that intimacy is an indication of commitment.  Not every human saw that connection.  Intimacy at any stage can be physically and emotionally satisfying.  I never bought into the idea that "no means yes."

The new concept of consent was previously understood if only for practical reasons.  A relation can be ended by crossing a line.  This was a normal fear of males.  With hormones driving them and with maybe a little encouragement it might be difficult to exercise control, but there was always that fear of rejection and perhaps an awareness that there might be legal/societal consequences.  A formal concept of consent would be helpful for both males and females.

Ice breaking is a concept that all cultures seem to understand.  Lots of plays, movies, books and talk hinge on overcoming the awkward time between a platonic relationship and intimacy.  I remember a limerick, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker."  My grandmother (over 60 years older than me) shocked me by saying "apple pie  without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze."

Arranged marriages are the answer for many.  Parents decide on a match that might be partly political, but also weighed with personal factors.  The couple would be encouraged to know one another or maybe not in some cases.  After the union has been sanctified, sex was assumed (and desired by those wanting grand children and their line to be carried on) and sometimes instructions had been given, but sometimes not with the assumption it was natural, but really embarrassment was the explanation.

Any line crossing in sex is subject to problems.  Should adults have to answer for sexual missteps in their youth?  Within reason, maybe.  But I would add that he (or she) who is without sin should throw the first stone.   An earlier blog:  We also like to think we are a society that gives a "second chance," but all too often such things as being jailed handicap offenders for their life.  Plenty of people (really all of us) have been given second chances and a few have abused them.

What does a second chance mean?  Like most people I have made lots of mistakes--some I learned not to repeat and others I hoped no one would ever find out.  I remember my father telling if you were thinking about doing something you should think first if you would want your mother to know  allowing that you might be embarrassed, but not ashamed.

Looking at politicians and other leaders it would benefit us all to realize none of them are perfect.  Have they learned a lesson?  What do they offer us now.   Looking at the thousands of people we pass by most months it would do us well not to be too judgmental.

For an earlier blog on the topic of sex, but pre Doug Ford: