Sunday, February 25, 2018

Winter Olympics 2018

In truth my Olympic enthusiasm has worn down over the past years, but still once it occurs something stirs.  Some of the reasons for less excitement are commercialization, too many events to track and perhaps my kids are not pushing me.  The circus atmosphere has some advantages, but can also be tiresome.  Drug use has also disillusioned me.  Ben Johnson lost a gold medal but I have read that all the other runners in the same race had used drugs.

My enthusiasm started as a 12 year old.  I consciously remember the 1960 Olympics in Rome where I cut out newspaper clippings and watched a few delayed tapes.  Over the years watched and then taped television coverage, sometimes even including the unique tv commercials.  Both my kids seemed to enjoy it as well.  This year I slid over the first week, but in the 2nd week my interest picked up, but realized I had missed many outstanding moments.

Canadians get a chance to watch more Olympics on tv. as the CBC put out over 10 hours per day and worked out an agreement with other networks so that pretty much all events could be covered.  This coverage makes at least Canadians more aware that we live in a big world with many time zones.   Complaints were common that it was so difficult to see some events (especially if you have to work the next day).  With the internet it was difficult to avoid spoilers which actually spoil experience for some would be viewers.  There is a trade off between live and taped.  We all love to watch winners whether we saw it live or on tape.  In some ways I prefer the hi-lites.

Politics is always intrusive.  North Korea conducted a charm offensive after a few months of playing nuclear brinkmanship.   Mike Pence seemed very distant from the North Korean leader's photogenic sister, but claims he had a meeting with North Koreans that they cancelled.  It was also disclosed that the vice president insisted that the North Koreans must abandon their nuclear weapons totally  Koreans took pride in their accomplishments and wanted to show off.  They did impress technologically.  They made an effort to develop athletes building on success with short track skating. A surprise was their women's curling team that drew a lot of attention and won a silver medal.    Ivanka Trump sent to offset the North Koreans and probably left a better impression than Mike Pence.

The coach Canadian Sarah Murray, of the Korean women's team found herself in the midst of Korean  global diplomacy when North Koreans became part of a deal and she had some North Korean players added to her roster.  A North Korean figure skating pair drew a lot of positive attention but were marginal contenders.

There has been an effort to clean up drug abuse and one of my Facebook friends, Akaaj Makaraj has been part of the action.  Forcing Russia out got a lot of attention.  A sense of fairness is critical to appreciating sports.  Mixed feelings as Russians (like NHL Players) give the games excitement as far as quality is concerned.  Of course the top Russian players actually played to an ice hockey gold medal, but under a different banner.  A drug tainted event diminishes credibility.

Gay athletes made a statement.  Adam Rippon made a point of not wanting to shake hands with Mike Pence.  Many people don't know any gays and thus buy into stereotypes and prejudice, however when they represent your country and win it is hard to maintain the same level of prejudice

Climate change forced some adjustments.  Cold, but not enough snow.  Artificial snow to the rescue.  Caught some wind mills in the background.  Also saw some athletes with short sleeves and even shorts in bobsleigh runs.

The NHL took a risk and offended fans and the players union by blocking involvement of their players.   But they missed an opportunity when one thinks of the World Cup which assures the fans who is the best in the world.  Undoubtedly they will be paying attention to the technology.  When the referee blows their whistle it is digitally connected to stop clock.  Seconds do count, but fans also like to be assured nobody gained an unfair advantage.  Parity is happening with men, but with women it is still mainly the United States and Canada, although other nations are closing the gap.  Germans were the big surprise, but most of their players had basic training in Canada.  I understand that they have a well developed domestic league that likely will now draw more participation.  Marginal professional players actually opened up opportunities for the non traditional countries

Curling, not something I think about, but covered quite a bit.  Parity is occurring at the expense of Canadians.  Mixed doubles not seen except in hi-lites seems like a good idea.

I watched Facebook friend, Jesse Lumsden competing finishing 7th in two man bobsled and I believe 4th in the four man event.  I caught his father, Neil who I used to work with in the crowd.

Virtue and Moir Canada's favorite couple who are not a couple.  They certainly pair very well together.  Meagan Duhamel helped win a gold and a bronze for Canada, but also took time to rescue Korean dogs headed for the slaughter house.  Her pairs partner Eric Radford became the first openly gay man to win a gold medal (in the team figure skating contest).

Always in the Olympics there are lots of stories.  The ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat are on full display.  Expectations are key.  Some are just glad to be there and perhaps achieve a personal best.  A Facebook friend was disappointed with a Canadian women's reaction to losing a very  tight game.  He is right it is far easier to be classy when you win, but more critical when you lose.  Still us armchair quarterbacks have not put in the effort required to even be there.  The original Olympics of 1896 were conceived as a sort of amateur gentleman's contest valuing sportsmanship and fitness. Hopefully we have not totally lost sportsmanship along with amateurism.  Canadian hockey teams have had very high expectations and have been known to resent even having to play for a bronze medal.  This year the Canadian men fought hard to earn a bronze medal and it could be argued that some flukey mishaps stopped them for contesting for the gold.

The Skate Gala is always a hi-lite for me.  The skaters are not competing and can make a statement.  Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir did a tribute to Canadian icon Gord Downey for their last Olympic skate.  A Spanaird and an Italian did humorous skits.  I missed the pairs contest in the first week, but saw very impressive medal winners in all divisions at the gala.  Both Japanese men were impressive, but the most impressive skater for me was Yazuru Hanyu.  Figure skating has been criticized for being more art than athletics, but all sports combine both elements  Two of my favorite artists remain Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.

In the end I did get a lot of enjoyment out these Olympics, but regret I didn't pay more attention at the beginning.  If they don't add too many new sports I will be able to appreciate their artistry more next time around.  I saw only parts of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, but felt Koreans really do know how to put on a show.  I added a bit to my K-Pop collection.

A previous blog on the 2016 Olympics:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Music and Movies Part one

Movies are really just stories with lots of tools that are used to engage the viewers.  Music is very effective in setting the mood whether scary, action, romantic or sad.  Pumping the viewer up or calming them down.  Sometimes you can be very conscious of a beautiful melody or performance, but often you barely notice the background music.  Of course songs are what are most often remembered.

This post was delayed so I could watch "Score" and that was a good choice.   Some new music was discovered and some deeper understanding found.  The background music is more than just memorable melodies.  It helps set the mood.  One example was that by playing up or down musical scales it could subtly mimic the actions of the actors.  Many little bits could prepare the audience for action.  Another example was from the shower stabbing scene in "Psycho" when they originally played it without sound, and then adding the screeching violins of Bernard Hermann and greatly enhanced the scary element.

As always researching for these blogs helps me discover new things that make the effort personally worthwhile.  Some of the knowledge is spread around the blog and may or may not be recognized, but two movies struck me.  "I had seen and enjoyed "Gladiator,"  but couldn't recall anything special about the music  Hans Zimmer working with others inserted one song that I have bought and enjoy listening to.

"Another one was Remember the Titans" (2000).  The theme was used for an Obama rally which by itself is of interest.  I was able to watch the movie which is engrossing.  Great music helps enhance great movies while at other times salvages not so memorable movies.

Just as scripts are classed as original or adapted, music can be broken down to original and borrowed.   Borrowing generally means using already established music.  My favorite classical borrowings are the Mozart No 21 Piano concert which is better known in some circles as a theme from "Elvira Madigan" and Ravel's Bolero in "10." Another famous borrowing was Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" used in "Apocaplypse."  It is cheaper to use long dead composers and it can leave a classic touch.  "Casablanca" used "As Time Goes By" that had been written 12 years before raising it from obscurity to become an overnight standard..

For many of my era the consciousness of music and stories first came from the Walt Disney studio.

Frank Churchill started by playing piano in film theatres and then doing short films for the Disney studio including the song "Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf."  Moving onto feature films, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"was a major gamble for Disney, but proved a spectacular success. (1937)  Later Frank worked on "Bambi" (1942) and winning an Oscar for "Dumbo" in 1942.  Unfortunately he killed himself in 1942

Lee Harline was musically responsible for "Pinochio,"and "Sleeping Beauty.  As an adult I watched "The Fox and the Hound" with my young daughter.

"The Lady and the Tramp" had Peggy Lee (an adult favorite)  co-writing some of the songs.  As a young man I really enjoyed her singing, particularly her phrasing.

Perhaps the most accepted Disney composers were Robert Sherman and his brother Richard.  They wrote a song, "Tall Paul" that was sung by Annette Funicello and got the attention of the Disney Studio.  As a team they wrote songs and music for such films as "The Parent Trap" (1961), "Mary Poppins" (1964) winning two Oscars.  Their most famous song was "It's a Small World After All," written for the World's Fair of 1964  "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins was Walt Disney's favorite song and was requested when he felt depressed.

"The Wizard of Oz" (1939) was one of the greatest films ever made.  It was a very big deal when it appeared on tv as it was rare.  The composer, Harold Arlen was really a song writer, one of the most successful of his time.  He wrote for Broadway and for the Harlem Cotton Club and lots of his songs made it into movies, even to recent times.  His lyricist E. Y. Harburg was clever.  One line will serve as an example (not from The Wizard of Oz) "when I'm not facing the face I fancy I fancy the face I face."  He was blacklisted.  One of his best known songs, "Brother Can you Spare a Dime."

Lyrics is another fascinating topic, but too much for this blog post.  The big question is what comes first, the music or the words?  It depends.

In my formative years musicals were fairly popular on tv in North America.  Gradually they became less popular and were considered unrealistic.  Many were adapted from Broadway, but also original.

Irving Berlin composed for "White Christmas," "Easter Parade,"and "Holiday Inn."

Richard Rogers, composed and formed partnerships with lyricists Lorenz Hart, and Oscar Hammerstein.  Some of my favorite musicals included  "South Pacific, "" Flower Drum Song,","The King and I", and "Carousel,"   "Sound of Music" and "Oklahoma,," were also very popular, but not seen by me, although much of the music was familiar.

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe collaborated for a number of Broadway musicals that were adapted for the screen.  I had never seen most of the movies, but was very familiar with some of the music.  I vaguely remember seeing "Brigadoon" and had seen "Paint Your Wagons," but not the more familiar, "My Fair Lady", "Gigi" (written for film) and "Camelot."  Frederick Lowe was born in Berlin with an operetta singing father.  Frederick learned to play the piano by ear and helped his father rehearse.   At age 13 he played solo piano with the Berlin Philharmonic.  After his parents migrated to the United States (they were Jewish) Frederick played piano in silent film theatres.  Meeting Alan Jay Lerner proved to be a key to his future.

George Gershwin wrote "Porgy and Bess," for which I had seen on tv fairly young and later on a high school trip on stage.

Leonard Bernstein is a name I associated with classical music and had seen him perform and talk on tv.   Long familiar with the songs from West Side Story,  I recently saw it for the first time and although dated, one can appreciate trend setting.   He also wrote music for "Girl Crazy."

Andrew Lloyd Weber is still active, but has a lot of laurels to rest on.  Evita, "Phantom of the Opera" (saw the play), "Jesus Christ Superstar" were a few of his film adaptations.

"La La Land" was a successful attempt to show musicals can still draw fans.   But to me it was not outstanding.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a classically trained musician and composer and had written "serious" music before coming to America.  His family fled Europe as Hitler was annexing Austria.  He had been asked to arrange some Medelssohn's music for "A Midnight Summers Dream."  He was approached to compose music for "Captain Blood," (1935) shortly before its deadline, but he could only manage about one hour of music and supplemented the rest with Franz Schubert.  He requested that his credits be "Musical Arrangement by Erich Wolfgang Korngold."  He later won an Oscar for "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) and was nominated for "The Sea Hawk"  and "The Private lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).

Korngold was one of the first to write motifs for each of the leading characters.  Hugo Friedhofer noted, "He was the first to write film music in long lines, flowing chunks that contained the ebb and flow of mood and activity and the feeling of the picture.  Korngold often played a piano alongside a projectionist running the film.

Hugo Friedhofer helped fill in a missing piece of the musical puzzle.  Although in later life he was a successful recognized composer initially he was valued for his ability to orchestrate, that is fill in the bare composition with more instruments.  Learned to play the cello at age 13.  He dropped out of high school and married at age 22 but found work playing in theatre orchestras and later making incidental music for stage and films.  Through a violinist friend he made contact with film studios and ended up orchestrating for both Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, with whom he spoke German.  He was so valued as an orchestrator that he was not allowed to compose.  In fact he did compose for 120 films without credit, but once he broke his attachments he received 7 Oscar nominations for scores including for "The Best Years of Our Lives" in 1946.

Elmer Bernstein was a protege of Aaron Copland and during World War II arranged some musical numbers for Glenn Miller..  He made a mark with "The Man with a Golden Arm" (1955 with its jazzy score earning an Oscar nomination.  He is most famous for "The Magnificent Seven" (1961) which was re-worked to be included in a remake in 2010.   Some other notable films included "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) and "The Great Escape" (1963).  Not related to Leonard Bernstein, although they knew each other.

Bernard Herrmann had an abrasive personality which many thought hurt his Oscar chances, but he did win one for "The Devil and Daniel Webster" in 1942.  He had written for Orson Welles including the infamous radio broadcast "The War of the Worlds" in 1938.  He got to write the music for "Citizen Kane" (1941) which always ranks as one of the best movies ever.  One of his most famous bits of music was after Alfred Hitchcock declared he wanted no music for the shower scene in "Psycho," but was able to be more effective with music.   He did 9 films with Hitchcock, including "Vertigo" once declared best movie ever.  Hermann's favorite work was with "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," (1947). His last film was "Taxi" and he died a few hours after completing. Hermann insisted on doing his own orchestration.  He also introduced new instrumentation such as for "The Day the World Stood Still."

Dmitri Tiomkin's  Guns of Navarone (1961) was perhaps my first acquaintance with his music, and led me to buy a record album of movie themes.  Some others I recall "Alamo"--one that I enjoyed the music for "Unforgiven," but didn't see the movie for several decades.  He won an Oscar for "High Noon" (1952).   He helped with a Russian production of "Tchaikovsky."

Henry Mancini played the flute and sent an arrangement to Benny Goodman which resulted in a job offer.  During the war he was assigned to a band unit which probably saved his life as his original unit was wiped out during the Battle of the Bulge.  After World War II he joined the Glenn Miller Band.   He arranged music for "The Glenn Miller Story"  and in 1952 wrote music for "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde."  I was fascinated by "The Great Imposter" which he wrote the music for and inspired by the theme bought another album of movie themes.  Hatari, Moon River,--Sunflower (Italian/Russian)    He won Oscars for "Victor Victoria" (1982) and "Days of Wine and Roses," and Breakfast at Tiffany's" as well as 18 nominations  He was noted for injecting some jazz in the background.

John Barry, an English man got a break teaming up with pop star Adam Faith who got into movies.  Once there he got noticed and asked to arrange music for "Dr No" and eventually he tallied 11 James Bond scores.  Altogether he won 5 Oscars, for "Born Free" (2), "Dances with Wolves," and "Lion in Winter."

Jerry Goldsmith wrote scores for a number of movies, including "Chinatown,"  I learned that for "Hoosiers" he added in sounds mimicking the sound of multiple basketballs being bounced as if in a practice.

John Williams favored by Steven Spielberg.  "Jaws' was a popular movie.  At that time I lived over a movie theatre and when having a bath it was unnerving to hear the surging part.  Superman, E.T. Jurassic Park,  He started as a musician and played the piano for movies.  He also was involved as an arranger.  One of his early successes was with "Jaws" which helped cement a relationship with Steven Spielberg and extended to George Lukas.  "The Book Thief."

Philip Glass is considered a classical composer, but has gotten involved with many movies.  While in Paris he transcribed music from Ravi Shankar for a French film.  Later studied music from India and parts of Africa.  He has a style that is easy to recognize such as  "The Hours" (2002).   He was nominated for an Oscar for  "Notes on a Scandal" (2002).  He did music for two Russian films, "Leviathan" (2014) and "Elena" (2011).  Also did music for "The Fog of War" (2003) and "Kundun" (1997).

Hans Zimmer,  German born as a young man was seen in a video ""Video killed the Radio Star"  He was a pioneer integrating electronic music with traditional orchestral arrangement.  "Gladiator" and   "Blade Runner 2049" are only two of his works.

Paul Zaza is a movie composer who I happened to meet through my in-laws.   Connection was a younger sister, Jennifer got used an extra for "Meatballs" and then research uncovered that actually Elmer Bernstein wrote the music for this while Paul wrote the music for Meatballs 3.  Related thru marriage to my wife's late step father  Paul was lucky that at age 4 his musical talent was recognized and he was enrolled in piano lessons at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.  As a musician, toured with "Hair" and the Fifth Dimension.  Setting up a music studio he was able to help rectify an unsatisfactory movie score and subsequently did over a hundred scores, some winning awards.   Many of them were horror movies such as "Prom Night"

Part 2 is now available:

Sunday, February 11, 2018


At first her book was to be avoided.  It was too self-serving.  However as time marches on some commentators have praised her for her astute political observations.  I have blogged about her before and believe she has been a target of unfair vicious criticism.  Far from perfect, but one must realize it takes a strong personal drive to weather the many obstacles to the presidency.

The political process is structured, yet for most of us it is full of mystery.  She helps unravel some of it.  There was no one factor that did her in, but more a series of factors that chipped away at what was once a formidable lead.  She freely admits she has her share of flaws and in some cases itemizes her mistakes.

One thinks of America as one of the most free countries in the world, yet it falters in comparison  to many others regarding its treatment of women. Part seems to be the evangelical elements that feel strongly that a women's role is in the home.  Bill Clinton lost his first attempt to be Governor of Arkansas and some attributed it to Hillary maintaining her maiden name.  For his next and successful attempt she added Clinton to her name.  To many she seemed an uppity woman and was constantly criticized.

Press coverage seemed  to emphasize negatives, particularly the email "scandal" that really wasn't.  lt should have been a minor concern considering how many Republicans had a poor history in this area including George W Bush, Mitt Romney, even Mike Pence.  Donald Trump truly had some outstanding scandals.  Trump University and his Atlantic City fiasco really showed what he thought of the common working man.  What he thought of women was captured for all to hear and he still faces accusations of over a dozen women.

Bernie Sanders was my preferred candidate, but I can appreciate that he was not as practical as Hillary.  I preferred his plans on the Israeli Palestinian conflict where most American politicians are biased.  It seemed rigged against Bernie as if  Hillary was pre ordained.  Bernie who did draw large crowds still needed the public to get more familiar with him.  He did not get the coverage that other established candidates did.  Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were well known personalities. Although Bernie did what he could to boost Hillary after he lost to her it seems likely there was some resentment that caused some to look for a third candidate, not vote at all or even vote for the Republicans.

A lot of issues raised about the unfairness of the process which I agree with.  How can the Republicans screw people and make it seem like the Democrats did it?  George Lakoff has in my opinion a more robust way of dealing with the Republicans.  I can only imagine there must be some personal animus against him as his ideas are not controversial or difficult.  The only reference to him in the book is a sexist remark he once made.  Get more perspective at:

Conservatives realize their true agenda has little appeal to most voters.  For many the election is about one issue--abortion, or it might be acceptance (or not) of homosexuals, or it might be gun rights.  The National Rifle Association ganged up on Hillary stating that she planned to replace Second Amendment rights which was false, but scary to many.

After the book was published in September of 2017 we learn something almost every day how the Russians meddled in the election.  Donald Trump has a long history of dealing with Russians and his one attempt to alter the Republican platform was to diminish sanctions against the Russians.  Maybe he really thought that was the way to peace and was just overly sensitive that he didn't win the election on his own merits, but that stretches credibility.  The Russians helped dig up dirt or at least what could be spun as dirt, amplified false information and targeted information where it would have the most impact.  When Obama wanted to alert the American public to Russian meddling, Mitch McConnell threatened to sabotage the effort.

Hillary studied early voting states vs one day only voting plus polls to prove what a devastating effect Comey's press conference had.  All the polls had her winning right up until his announcement that further investigation was about to be conducted.  Those who voted early voted for her while those who voted later steered towards Trump or third party candidates.  Trump's campaign was being investigated, but that was not publicized.  Although Trump is accusing the F.B.I. of favoring Democrats, the truth appears the opposite.

The Electoral College presents a challenge.  You don't have to get the most votes, but get the most electoral votes.  By itself this distorts all campaigns, but everyone has the same rules.  Hillary argues that she did put in an honest effort (based on poll results) in the three states, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that made the difference.  In each of the states a third party candidate drew enough votes to allow Donald Trump to win.

Voter suppression was another very significant factor.  Voting rights were loosened in 2013 with the John Roberts led Supreme Court.  14 states added restrictions including not only new identification requirements, but also cutting early voting days.  In the states with new voting restrictions turnout decreased by 1.7%,whereas in other states turnout actually increased by 1.3%.

Although issues were significant Hillary notes that the best predictor of a Trump voter was someone who resented Mexicans, blacks or Muslims.  She was thinking of that when she said her infamous statement about "deplorables." She admits that others who favored some Republican policies but did not see themselves as bigots were resentful.  Still she admits it hurts that people preferred to vote for Trump or seek a third party alternative.  After all he has a history of racism, misogyny, that was well known.  So if voters didn't sympathize with Trump's views they at least accepted them.

Hillary's book doesn't tell the whole story, but voters would be foolish not to recognize the many truths.  She doesn't spare herself.  I am glad I overcame my initial reluctance to read the book. America is stuck with a very bad decision and although not enough realize it, things will have to change if America is to be the country that used to be respected and admired by most of the world. She tried to have serious discussions on policies while Trump was more comfortable with hyperbole, insults, and even threats.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Hit Makers

The title gets attention, but the subtitle gives a more accurate idea of what the book is all about.  "The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction."  If you are not trying to generate a "hit" of some sort you are likely marveling at someone who has accomplished the goal.  Whether or not, most of us are part of the  dynamics.  This book has a lot of meat to digest.

To have a big hit one thinks quality is the most important factor, but in reality quality is desirable, but insufficient.  There are songs (etc) that you would like better than what you listen to now, but somehow they are hidden from view.

In the beginnings of history people communicated in small groups and had little contact with outsiders.  As people organized ideas could reach larger groups of people.  One of Derek's examples was a Brahm's lullaby that initially was not written for the public, but over time it spread including to his mother across oceans.

Raymond Loewy was an important industrial designer who wondered what people really wanted.  He made a point of studying consumer habits instead of merely looking to design a more efficient product.  Some of his concrete results were improvements to Gestetner machines and the Cold Spot Refrigerator and some corporate logos.  He concluded that people felt comfortable with something familiar, but were attracted to something a little newer.  He coined an acronym, MAYA which stands for Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.  I used to write newsletters on a Gestetner machine.

Humans can be divided into those who fear new things (neo phobes) and those who love new things (neo philiacs) and a third group, neophiles who adapt easily and are fascinated by new things.  Of course it depends on the issue--more people probably fear new things at work than they do with their hobbies.  In other words there is a little bit of each in every individual, but most of us are dominated by one or the other.  The trick to making a hit is to get a good balance between the familiar and the new.  Read more at:

Derek gives several examples throughout the book how familiarity is critical and how repetition helps in the process.  Rats apparently can be habituated to a repeated sound, but a slight variation gets added attention.  We aren't that different.

We hear the expression "viral" used to explain a rapid increase in interest for a particular item.  It was what wanna be hit makers strive for.  Derek challenges this concept.  "Viral" comes from the study of diseases spreading which is one person contaminates another and that person contaminates another and it spreads to a wider part of the population.  Instead Derek points out that most so called viral escapades happen only when an item reaches a wider distribution network such as Justin Bieber

Homophily, a new word for me simply means that people like to be like those surrounding them. Although perfectly normal it does have some unhealthy consequences.  Although there are more three year olds who are not white over 75% of whites cannot identify one minority friend.

To summarize the key to hits is to have an effective distribution network.  Of course you have to have something that would appeal to large numbers of people.  Derek offers two examples to close his book.

Walt Disney built up a following slowly back in the 1920's but when Kay Kamen (born Herman Samuel Kominetzky) got a look at Mickey Mouse he was excited and traveled to California to talk to Mr Disney.  His business was merchandising toys and other momentos from movies.  He convinced Walt to get involved with merchandising and took them from $300,000 sales in 1930 to $35 million in 1935 in the middle of the Depression.   Furthermore the merchandise actually helped boost the movies, including helping to finance his big breakthrough with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." The idea spread to launch into a television program and amusement parks at the same time.  ABC helped finance the first Disneyland and then decided they wanted out.  Big mistake.  The Walt Disney Empire gets revenue from a variety of sources that all reinforce one another.  A movie is sure to be a hit while also generating revenues from merchandise, television and visits to their parks all of which help finance the next hit.  Each part supports the other parts.

To balance off his book, Derek gives the example of Ryan Leslie who you might not have heard of.  Ryan was a very precocious young man who proved himself in a number of platforms, but did not want to get tangled up with labels when he became a rapper.  He dropped his label and set up a network where fans buy directly from him (at a premium) and he invites them to events.  He is not fabulously wealthy, but he makes very good money and retains his freedom.  His secret (other than offering quality) is he has a network that includes the likes of Kanye West and other prominent rappers.   He has control of this network which is all computerized.  He could and might opt to hit the mainstream, but is happy avoiding some of the problems.

Hit Makers are part of your life.  Most of us don't  come up with hits, but most of us enjoy them.  You can watch a 50 minute presentation by Derek Thompson explaining the book and a few things that happened afterwards (such as Donald Trump's election).  Click on

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Charity Norman discovery

Life seems to follow a pattern, especially when you follow the crowd.  I like to go off the beaten path. Opportunities are everywhere, but most of the time we keep on our trajectory.  When I say "opportunities" I don't just mean to make money, but more importantly to enjoy life more.

A few years back my son, Michael moved to New Zealand, a place so far away we never imagined visiting it, but now there was a compelling reason and admittedly circumstances were more favourable.

He lived in the modern city of Auckland and it was impressive, but our son wanted us to realize there was a lot more to New Zealand than what you could find in a big city.  We did a sort of grand tour of the north island.  Napier had gotten my attention as it had the National Aquarium and also had an Art Deco style (not that I really understood but it sounded nifty).

We stayed at Parkside Lodge while in Napier and it was pleasant enough that I blogged about it and decided to email Sateesh, the owner to show my appreciation.  He emailed back to ask permission to show to prospects.  That blog got more views than my two others from the trip.   In Napier (at Parkside Lodge) as is my custom I read the local paper and noted a reference to Charity Norman as a local author.  Back in Auckland I noticed one of her books on display, but I wasn't looking to buy.  Here is what I sent Sateesh:

Back at home the idea percolated in my brain and when my son planning to visit us asked what I would like for a Christmas present.  I wanted something that could only come from New Zealand.  I chose a CD of a Bic Runga concert in Christchurch which I still listen to and a book by Charity Norman.  Not really expecting anything monumental, but was very pleased with my son's gifts.

"Second Chance" was a very enjoyable read.  It has been retitled "After the Fall" in Europe.  Abuse and misunderstandings are key factors.  A family with problems made the move from England to New Zealand, actually in the Hawke's Bay area where Napier is located.  It is always interesting to learn about "exotic" faraway lands, but I felt a slighter more awareness.

Became a Facebook friend with Charity and was able to keep up with her literary endeavours.  Fascinating background--born in Uganda as a vicar's daughter later shifted among a variety of English locations,   She became a lawyer working with family courts in England.  At one point she gave up her legal career and moved to New Zealand with her family.

I once attended a talk by Robert J Sawyer who when asked about how writers should get started contradicted common advice to write about what you know.  He felt you should research something  you think would be of interest to the public and write about that.  Never thought in that way, but it makes sense.  On the other hand both he and Charity write about what they have some familiarity with.  One of Sawyer's strengths is local scenes that have actually made foreigners more aware of Canada.  Charity seems to draw on her own experiences in both England and New Zealand.  But extending her comfort zone Charity has obviously researched beyond her own experiences.  For more on Robert J Sawyer read:

Boxing day, this past December found me in a crowded Sylvia Park Mall and discovered the last copy of  "See you in September"  and couldn't resist.  It explores cults from inside and outside explaining how someone reasonably intelligent could be lured in.  A compelling story with one philosophical reflection by way of a brief comparison of oblivion to eternity which I think is the essence of religion.  In her acknowledgement Charity was honest enough to admit Google was a useful tool.  I would add Wikipedia as another resource.

"Freeing Grace" when read I hadn't t realized it was her first novel.  One technique that carried through all the other books was multiple viewpoints.  In some cases the subjective view is used, in others the focus is from an observer focused on one character.  A mixed race adoption involving a resistant family and a desperate mixed couple wanting to be parents.

"The Son in Law" was very riveting.  I felt confident it would have a more or less happy ending, but couldn't figure out how it could be resolved.   It was as if there was an irresistible force on one side and an impenetrable wall on the other--actually more like two walls.  The author is a great believer in the power of communication and mediation plays an important role in the book giving it a realistic polish.  An interesting reference to a Canadian of my generation was the role of Leonard Cohen's voice as a tool to move the story dynamics.  When I was in my late teens he was very popular and I ended up giving away his first album to impress a girl.

The best explanation for me of mediation came from a Spanish movie (co-produced by Netflix), "Seven Annos."  Four key people in a successful company felt they could all end up in jail for 7 years and then concocted the idea one could take the blame and the company could continue.  They brought in a mediator to resolve the dilemma.  Some important rules explained, then we soon saw a violation, but group dynamics forced another effort.  A Spanish law about smoking was one prop that helped in the process.  In Charity's book one might not have realized a mediation effort was involved, but a reader could not help but admire the process.  More on "Seven Annos" here:

I have the impression Charity understands very well the processes involved in family issues and when the rules as we understand them can be bent.  The four books I was able to read all brought up unusual (but not improbably or unlikely) family situations.  Emotions are at their peak with reasoning put aside making a satisfying resolution difficult to imagine.  Humans are capable of solving very difficult problems once they accept the need.

Philosophy crops up with ideas to ponder.  Many of the characters express an interest in what life is really all about.

A slight linking through Family court experience.  I was a social worker briefly and recall one visit to court where a boy was rejected by a step father after his mother died.  I was too young to really understand, but it was a new part of the world for me.  For more information on my short social work career.

Admittedly her books are hard to find, particularly if you don't live in Britain or New Zealand.  Fortunately Hayley, my son's girlfriend took pity on my frustration and was very helpful in tracking one title for me while in New Zealand and wouldn't accept payment.  We found another copy at a Whangerei book store, Piggery Books.  The internet expands opportunities.  There are German versions of her books.

At the moment there is only one of her books I have not read--I hope she is working on another.  She lives in a wonderful part of the world (even for New Zealand) and it seems to have a great effect.  I found a short article about her dilemma with so much of her family half way around the world.  The age of Skype has lessened the difficulties.  There will come a time when the distance is tragic, but I think my son has made a good choice.