Friday, September 28, 2018

MY THOUGHTS ON THE KAVANAUGH HEARINGS

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 another 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 favours 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 runup 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:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/trump-enablers.html

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 to 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:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/03/the-innovators-dilemma.html

(SEXUAL) CONSENT

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:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/08/what-have-you-gotten-away-with.html  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:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/05/sex-in-classroom.html

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Insult

You might consider a title like "The Insult" (2017)  to have a lot of potential to be either very comical or very violent.  It is actually more of a reconciliation movie with two opposing perspectives realizing the other is not totally wrong.  There must be something of merit in a movie nominated for best Oscar foreign movie.  This is one of the few individual movies from my viewpoint that is worth its own separate blog post.  The dialogue is in Arabic with subtitles.

In everyday life people insult one another fairly commonly.  One man even got elected President using many pointed and offensive insults.  Some comedians specialize in insults.  Most of us indulge in insults that we hope the target doesn't hear.   Few insults end up in court.

In Lebanon as generally in the Middle East there is sensitivity towards insults.  Religious and ethnic differences have often resulted in vendettas and wars.  Generally anyone has difficulty in seeing the other viewpoint especially as you are usually surrounded by people who reinforce your opinion.

Reconciliation is common in movies even including romances, but "The Insult" makes its points where some insults can result in violence or court action.  What really makes it stand out is the execution.  There are twists and over the length of the film you come to understand the background and inter-relations.  The two main characters are Christian and Palestinian.  They are both married and both end up hiring lawyers.  Outsiders might not realize that the Palestinian is not legally allowed to work in Lebanon, but has been hired and recognized as a dedicated worker.

During street work tempers flare and actually both men feel insulted.  The Christian wants an apology.  He is not interested in money.  The man asked to apologize is pressured by his boss and finally agrees to meet the other, but that meeting is a disaster resulting in the Palestinian actually breaking two ribs of the Christian.

There are actually two trials.  In the first after some questions to both men the judge dismisses the charge citing lack of information.  Another lawyer steps in to the Christian taking the view this needs to be rectified.  At about the same time the Palestinian is approached by another lawyer this one a female who feels he has been unfairly treated.  Both lawyers are very impressive and a big twist is when we learn that they are father and daughter.

There are courtroom arguments and more drama outside.  The  Christian's wife gives birth prematurely with health concerns.  The two men, egged on a bit by their wives gradually see the other viewpoint.  Basically they each felt their group had suffered while the other had not and in the end they realized each group had suffered.  There is still tension, but the viewer appreciates that the younger generation and women are more open minded and forgiving.

The general pattern in films is not that rare and although the circumstances are a little unique we can all see connections to other movies and even personal experiences.  This movie stands out by the quality of presentation.

The director Ziad Doueri was born in Lebanon, where he studied in a French school.  He went to the United States during the Lebanese Civil War and after studying worked with Quentin Tarantino on many of his movies., including  'Jackie Brown'  (1997) and "Pulp Fiction " (1994).  By 9/11 he went back to his roots and has made a number of noted movies in the Middle East.  His film as a director/writer, "West Beirut"  (1998) won awards at Cannes and TIFF.  Other noted films have been "Lila Says" (2004) and "The Attack" (2012).  Currently he is working on a French tv series, "Baron Noir" (2016-18). 

He was concerned that he would not be able to get a crew and cast he could work with in Lebanon, but he felt (and I concur) he did really well.

Co-writer Joelle Touma also helped write "Lila Says" and "The Attack"  Recently she was a script doctor for a short, "Perhaps Today," (2017).

Five producers were listed and most have all worked together with Ziad. from a French base.   Rachid Bouchareb of France was a producer for "West Beirut" and "The Attack".  He also was directo, writer and producer for "London River." (2009).  Jean Brehat also worked with the same three films.  Julie Gayet had produced "Bonsai"  2011) from Chile. along with another producer, Nadia Turincev.   Antoun Schnaoui is a Lebanese banker who is very involved with the Beirut International Film Festival.  He was also a producer for "Clouds of Sils Maria" (2014). 

The music was subtle, not particularly Middle Eastern by Eric Neveux.  A French composer who had worked with Rachid Bouchareb.  He likes to work with independent producers.  He wrote music for some American projects including  a television series, "Inside Obama's White House" (2016).  He also composed for "The Attack."

Tommaso Fiorelli was the cinematographer  having earlier done "The Attack."  Is now working on "Baron Noir"  Beirut is making a comeback as a major international centre and we get a few shots of a modern skyline.

Dominique Marcombe did the editing and had previously edited "West Beirut" and "The Attack." Editing  can be tedious trying to get the right scene cut for emphasis without dragging.  The ending was switched with a scene of relief of a baby regaining health to give more emphasis to the verdict.

Adel Karam, played the main Christian protagonist and won an award as best actor in "The Insult"  He had a small role in "Where Do We Go Now," (2011) that won awards at Cannes and TIFF.  His next film was as the lead role in Egypt.

Kamel El Basha played the main Palestinian protagonist.  His background was with Palestinian theatre.including directing.   He was the writer and director for "Al Helm:  Martin Luther King in Palestine," (2014).  He was a producer for "Defying My Disability," (2016).  He won an acting award for "The Insult" at the Venice Film Festival.

Camille Salameh played the lawyer for the Christian protagonist.  He made the strongest impression on me as a practical, hard hearted advocate.

Diamand Bou Abboud played the daughter lawyer for the Palestinian protagonist and ironically had been a student of Camille who played her father.   Their personal relationship probably helped the spark between them in drama.  She has won acting awards in Lebanon and Egypt.

Rita Hayek played the young wife of the Christian protagonist.  She had received performance training in both Lebanon and California.  She has been a hostess of "So You Think you Can Dance?" in Lebanon.  She also has been a marathoner.  Most of her acting is in television series.

The main actors were outstanding and had been nominated for awards as an ensemble.  Supporting actors added to the realism.  Two of the judges (one male, one female) in the two trials that were commanding.  The boss of the Palestinian, the wife of the Palestinian (who was supposed to Lebanese) were others that come to mind.

The movie was well accepted internationally and locally by the Christian sections of Beirut.  But it was boycotted by many Muslims in Beirut  Generally it made little progress in Muslim quarters.  In Jordan they insisted on cutting about six minutes that was critical of them.  The director refused.

I was not expecting the professionalism of the film.  It really hits at human psychology not just for the Middle East, but of human nature.  If you get the chance, set aside time to watch without distractions.

Monday, September 17, 2018

SUPERCRAWL ON ITS TENTH ANNIVERSARY

When I moved to my current house some 36 years ago it was affordable and not too far from downtown Hamilton.  The problem was that James Street North, the main way downtown was not very attractive and I learned that people from other parts of Hamilton frowned upon it.  However over the years a few things started to develop.

Apparently Toronto real estate prices increasingly forced some artists to look for alternatives.  Some discovered that not only was James St N in Hamilton more affordable, but there were some interesting older buildings that hadn't yet been torn down to be replaced by modern concrete buildings.  Two galleries decided to co-operate by combining two open houses.  Over time more artists got together for what was called an "art crawl"  Every second Friday of the month art studios and galleries would stay open to invite the general public to look at their art and perhaps be entertained by musicians and food.   Restaurants soon realized they could service a larger crowd.  I remember going a few times for the novelty.  Over a decade ago some organizers realized that the public had made the art crawls self sustaining and it could be expanded.  Politicians entered into the discussions and a budget was drawn up to have what came to be termed "Supercrawl."  Insurance and municipal expenses were included.

The first one in 2009 started out as a one day affair, with one city block closed to cars, but each year they attempted to make some kind of improvement.  The second year they closed two blocks and attendance increased.  It was always intended as a "free festival."  Politicians and local businesses realized  this could be a big boost for tourism, not to mention the city's image.  At one point they brought in food trucks for a greater variety of food and to handle the bigger crowds.  As a local I noticed that in good weather the food trucks dominated, but in bad weather the local restaurants were packed.  I am a supporter of the local restaurants and feel James Street North has some of the best restaurants I have been lucky enough to eat at.  One local specialty was Portuguese restaurants, not that I appreciated initially, but now love.

With such large crowds (over 200,000 some years) there is a big demand for eating.  A dozen food trucks are brought in and this year listening to visitors they added a lot of bench tables to make it more convenient.  A few years ago Hamilton was host to several soccer matches for the Pan American Games and local vendors were promised they would benefit.  In reality out of town visitors were herded right to the stadium and local businesses did not benefit significantly and in fact some lost out as they had invested in upgrading and stocking for the expected crowd.  At this Supercrawl I am pleased to say all of the restaurants along the route (and even slightly off) were packed.  We went through about half a dozen before we were squeezed into Nique, but once there we were not rushed and enjoyed a great meal. 

On one of their early years they were virtually rained out.  Weather is unpredictable, but they have taken some precautions.   

For the 10th anniversary they added a fourth day on Thursday as a sort of warm up.  On Friday and Saturday night and only a little less on Sunday it is very similar to walking through the midway on Kids' Day.  There are interesting things along the way--street entertainers, art installations and a wide variety of boutique type booths.

A big popular band is a key draw.  I don't usually stay that late, but did for K'Naan a few years back.  This year they headlined with Broken Social Scene, a previous top act on Thursday night and Lights was the highlight for Saturday night. 

The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra offers an interesting combo of a small version of orchestra with a local indie rock band.  There is a little cross over.  Introducing some classical music to some and a local band to others.  Their latest version was with The Altobeelays.

Circus Orange at their first appearance was a bit of a mystery.  They put on an aerial display of acrobats with fire.  The photo is from that first year.  Each year they have done a distinctly new show, sometimes using local buildings such as a parking facility.  People line up, mostly standing over an hour in advance to get a good view.









I included references to the art crawl and Supercrawl in more general blogs, but I started blogging about the art crawl by itself in 2013:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/08/james-st-north-art-crawl-is-progressing.html  

An earlier art crawl:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/09/hamiltons-fifth-supercrawl.html 

A few random shots from this year.  The logo at the top was designed by Lester Colomo.






Sunday, September 9, 2018

THE SHOWMAN AND THE REALITY

The Wizard of Oz is one of my all time favorite movies, a bit dated, but with some enduring values.  The Wizard himself was a nice enough guy who projected power that awed his subjects.  Dorothy was an innocent young girl who was focused on just getting back home. Somehow she looked behind the curtain and found he wasn't nearly as powerful as his subject took for granted.

Donald Trump is a showman and superficially effective in some circumstances, but he is not a nice person.  For some intelligent people including many of his supporters they don't care.  Many of them think he is on their side and that he is accomplishing important things.  In truth not being nice is indicative that there might be something behind the curtain.  Admittedly if an advocate for what I believe in was a showman who got things of value done I wouldn't care an awful lot if he or she was a nice person.

His supporters proclaim that Trump has done some very important things that benefit lots of people.  They point to a booming stock market and low unemployment rates.  They should be looked at as the short term results of misleading policies and also ironically a continuation of many discarded policies.

He attributes the economic boom (while exaggerating its historic uniqueness) to tax cuts and deregulation.  Behind the superficial claims comes the real force behind them.  The biggest donators were demanding large tax cuts and deregulation.  Some Republicans claimed the tax cuts will pay for themselves and deregulation would just free up business energy.   For a clearer picture of who wanted the tax cuts and deregulation:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/07/dark-money-by-jane-mayer.html

The tax cuts do not pay for themselves and it is already evident that the government will have to borrow more money which in the end will raise interest rates and make it more difficult for the average person to borrow money.  Another course which is favored by many conservatives is to cut government expenses in a wide variety of areas including education, safety net programs, foreign aid, etc.  But not military which admittedly does provide jobs, but are they the ultimate jobs we want?

More seriously deregulation is portrayed as unfair restrictions on honest business men.  The problem historically has been that some of the more successful businessmen have little hesitation to take advantage of innocent consumers.  This was very evident in the 2008 recession when money lenders were on one hand more generous, but also deceptive.  Many borrowers found themselves over their heads.  Banks and investment houses were also big donators and demanding looser regulations.  Eventually the con men will disrupt our economy.  Chances are the wealthiest will suffer the least.

International relations is a relatively safe place to spout off.  Only it is not.  We now live in an increasingly inter-connected world.  What is the point of alienating nations that have historically been supportive?  When most of the world recognizes climate change as a major concern (more on that below) the United States federal government makes a very emphatic statement as it withdraws from the Paris Agreement.  Trade agreements that have benefits are ridiculed, but are tied to jobs right around the globe and have engendered peaceful relations.

The Iran Agreement was not designed to take care of every complaint against Iran, but was focused on the most serious concern to limit nuclear arms proliferation.  Several nations with different politics united to force compliance.  Yes everyone realized that Iran might not live up to its part, but the most comprehensive protections in all history were designed to protect international interests.  Like many countries Iran has conflicting factions and those who distrusted the American government have gained influence as a result.  America has created distrust.

Immigration is perhaps the most flammable issue.  Immigrants are pictured by those in power as job stealers and cultural diminishers.   It hides the fact that the real job squeeze comes from automation and the desire of those in power to maximize their profits by seeking the lowest wages with the least regulations.  It overlooks the historical value of diversity and also the global refugee crisis created by global trends with which most of us are complicit.  Some more thoughts on the refugee problem http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/04/rescue.html

Climate change is increasingly being recognized as one of the most serious concerns for all living beings although others argue that the threat of a nuclear war is maybe more serious.  Again vested interests have found bribing politicians the best way to stifle any efforts to cramp their profits.  Some of the efforts to lessen the worst effects of climate change are tied to reducing pollution.  One area Trump felt was successful was the work of Scott Pruitt who eliminated dozens of restrictions on polluters and after his overwhelming corruption forced him out his successor has carried on.  Another example of putting the fox in charge of the hen house but in this case everyone's health is endangered.

To a Canadian such as myself, the fight over health care seems ridiculous.  Canadians live longer and pay less for their healthcare than Americans do.  Not unusual as most developed nations are very similar in comparisons.  Why aren't Americans asking their politicians about how they can boost the outcomes of a health care program and who benefits from the current status?

Who benefits the most from the Trump regime?  There are of course individuals who are smart enough or lucky enough to be in a good position, but as groups I would suggest two.  The 1% who now have a thicker cushion.to enjoy a high standard of living.  Another group is the anti-American forces, most specifically Russia who want the breakup  of international alliances and increased polarization in western nations. 

Who suffers the most.  Pretty much the bottom 90% of the population somewhat proportionately as the most unfortunate people are concerned.  Minority groups who are the brunt of blame and some considered sinners by the evangelical base.

As part of the conservative agenda is a desire to rid themselves of big government restrictions.  They have convinced those who have been protected by a liberal large government  that their interests are not protected.  Conservatives are quick to extol the advantages of private enterprise, but overlook the contributions of government  for their own benefit.  See how the government has boosted business:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/07/the-entreprenurial-state.html

Voting is a right, but if it not used carefully can hurt those who make a poorly thought out decision.  Criticizing the Trump regime has the danger of overwhelming the victims who do not believe them anyway.  I hope no one has been overwhelmed by my list of misdeeds, but assure you it is an incomplete list.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

THE ESTABLISHMENT PARTIES AND PROPORTIONAL VOTING

It seem politics is all about power.  Once you have power you can do good things.  But politics can be about getting things done better by sharing power.

The current Canadian first past the post system has disadvantages for even the established parties.  It is often told how the minority parties lose when they get 6% overall voting, but don't get a single seat in Parliament.  Yes it is obvious that those votes are "wasted" but so are many of the votes for the establishment.  Once a candidate has achieved plurality in a riding each additional vote is unnecessary and therefore wasted.  In a proportional system those extra votes could help boost their overall number of seats.

A problem came up a few years back when Stephen Harper's party in 2006 won the majority of seats, but were lacking members from Vancouver and Montreal that traditionally would be represented with a cabinet minister.  Harper likes to present himself as a man of principle, but broke two of his principles.  He didn't approve of enticing opposition members (it had been done to him) to switch sides, but decided in one case that was his best option.  He enticed David Emerson the Liberal member for Vancouver Kingsway with a cabinet post--Minster of International Trade.  He also didn't like how the Canadian Senate was filled with appointees, but again bent his principle to take a Senator for a Cabinet position.  Actually he took a Conservative campaign organizer, Michael Fortier from the Montreal area and after appointing him to the Senate made him the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. This could have been avoided with a proportional system by listing Cabinet potential candidates to a higher ranking.  Some voters claim they vote for the "man" and not the party, but they still can vote for a slate of specific people under the proportional voting.

Although those in power under the first past the post system like to proclaim they have a mandate to do the people's will, in many cases that is pretty shoddy when the majority of the voters actually voted for other parties often specifically against the plurality winner's agenda.  Not to mention the larger numbers who for different reasons chose not to vote.  A real mandate comes only from a true majority.

Sharing power may seem like a diminishment of real power, but  it should result in real change that more people can accept.  Not because they got 100% of what they wanted, but because they (or their representatives) were consulted instead of dismissed.

A key part of how much credibility an election has is the number  of citizens who take the effort to vote.  It is often said that most people just vote reflexively without much study of the issues and personalities.  There could be truth to that, just as many non voters don't think it is worth their while to consider the consequences of a vote that would be "wasted."  And of course there is the strategic voter who has calculated their favored candidate has no chance and a vote for them could in fact enable the worst possibility to get elected unless they choose a more favorable candidate.

When the actual consequences of a single vote are realized (your vote really can make a difference) there will be a more powerful  reason to be involved.  Undoubtedly many votes will be made with little analysis, but under a proportional system more people are encouraged to study the issues beyond their seemingly narrow traditional range.

The advantages seem to shift power to the ordinary(?) voter and that politicians will have to think out platforms that appeal to a wider range of voters.  It is also true that some politicians can narrow their focus, but that is more likely to result in a narrower percentage of votes.  Engagement from citizens comes from education and the realization that one vote does count for something one can believe in.

An earlier post  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/12/your-guy-didnt-get-in.html

For those of you ready to get more involved check out http://fairvote.ca  For Americans check out https://www.fairvote.org for a perspective on your unique setup.