Wednesday, August 14, 2019

WHEN YOUR GUY GETS IN, IS IT OK?

The title is based on a comment by a critic of proportional representation.  While many of us complain about first past the post elections our critic pointed out we were only upset because "your guy didn't get in."  Admittedly there is some truth to that. "it" refers to the first past the post system.

On the other hand there is a tendency for parties to alternate winning and often each wins with less than 50% of the vote, although they can still gain majority control.  They each know that they just have to get a little edge and don't have to win over 50% of the voters.  Of course this is only true when there are more than 2 political parties.

In Canada two conservative parties split votes until they decided to merge.  This improved their election prospects, but Canadians lost a choice.  There was a difference as one of the two parties was more socially progressive so those who liked fiscal conservatism, but were open to progressive social policies and for that matter those who preferred opposite policies found they had to deal with compromise.  Compromising is not a bad thing, but when it limits the voters choices not such a good thing.  And of course different people inspire different levels of trust.

With a diverse population there are many different individual priorities and voters would emphasize different factors.  We of course need to come up with a reasonable consensus, but it would be better if it was an honest consensus hence the desirability of more than two choices.

Often because of fear we do often face only two choices.  We dread a party with what we consider dangerous notions.  We fear splitting the opposition to that  dangerous party and choose usually the most likely.  In effect we have forfeited our true preference.

From personal experience in Canadian elections I became conscious that in Canada for many the Liberal party is the default party whether you wish to avoid the Conservatives or the NDP.  Perhaps that is why Justin Trudeau preferred a ranking system and vetoed the proportional system where his party's chances would be at greater risk.  He is not alone as most politicians seem to prefer the status quo as that what allowed them to win. 

We should also bear in mind that vested interests try to attach themselves to something with more popularity than themselves.  What are vested interests? Some examples include financial interests, oil interests, pharmaceuticals..  There are few choices that do not involve corporate wanting to effect legislation.

Lists can publicized in advance ranking candidates as to which would be given priority dependent on how many seats a party is allowed.  Assuming my idea of lists before the election each party has a problem of how to delegate their candidates.   They need to boost confidence that they have good decision makers so those who have that reputation need to be high on the list.  Geography ie. local concerns is a key factor to spread support over as wide an area as practical.  Different, but essentially agreeable viewpoints need to be available to make sure voter nuance concerns are encouraged.  Gender has been a focal point for advocates that more women gain political power.  The list is critical for a party's platform assuring as many voters as feasible that their interests will be taken care of.  Decisions made after the election are subject to political manipulation which

Below is an example of how proportional voting could help a party in power.

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 proportional voting.

Credibility is important to have a true mandate.  Winning 39% of the votes, but also 50%+ of the seats gives power under the first past the post system, but is the country really behind you?  More can get done when true legitimacy is confirmed by the electorate.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

DON'T LABEL ME IS FOR EVERYONE

Irshad Mangi appeared on my television fairly regularly a few decades ago and was admired for her cutting logic and her views.  She has evolved as have I, partly after reading this book.  "Everyone" includes those idiots who don't agree with you (or me).  We live in a polarized world that could end in disaster, but we could go in a more positive direction if we would heed Irshad's advice.

Irshad Manji has a long history of arguing.  She has opted to present her latest thinking in the form of a dialogue with a dog.  That hit a nerve as the Muslims I know think dogs as pets are unholy.  However as a salesmen for pet products I did learn from a Muslim pet store retailer that dogs are acceptable as work animals, most commonly as guard dogs, but they are not kept in the house as other pets would be.  A Muslim niece loves cats and once interpreted or me at a Quebec cat show.

Irshad explains that dogs are not proscribed in the Qur'an, but have been part of Muslim culture and also that good Muslims can question.  I had read years ago that in some war zones Muslims had come to realize that dogs were life savers for among other things detecting bombs.

Irshad's dog, Lily is a pet that she has come to love and respect although both blind and old.  Maybe this is projection, but most pet owners do in fact talk to their dogs and cats and they in reality provide a useful sounding board.  I believe that in sorting out the difficulties in this philosophy she probably did sound off to her dog Lily.   It is also possible to use a familiar sounding board no matter what.

Labels can provide necessary information, but are not reality.  Everyone is unique and have many identities.  Labels are not only used for physical descriptions, but also for viewpoints.    Irshad's goal is to develop honest diversity where each individual can be independent, i.e. not tied to any one label.  The American motto, "e pluribus unum"--from many one.

Some of her focus is on Donald Trump, but is careful to realize that Trump supporters are not at all the same.  Some may have deplorable characteristics, but there is something behind their motivations that we all should try to understand and even respect. The man who introduced her to the woman who became her spouse and encouraged her to love dogs was an adamant Trump supporter but definitely not a homophobe.

Living in Ontario I was surprised to learn she includes Rob and Doug Ford, but notes some significant differences that reinforce her message.  Rob Ford appealed to the suburbs against downtown.  More on Doug Ford http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/07/move-over-donald-trump.html

It seems to me that conservatives are dogmatic and uncaring, but I felt a comeuppance after watching Jonathan Haidt on tv and reading his book. It prepared me to realize those jerks are not thinking that way just to annoy me.  More at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/02/the-righteous-mind.html

Instead of attacking someone with what seems like illogical beliefs, do not.   Irshad suggests you might ask "Could you help me understand what I am missing about your perspective?"  It won't work unless you are sincere and follow up.  Not every one will respond but some would welcome an opportunity to explain themselves.  This is not a time to attack their logic, but to delve further.  When people feel degraded it lights a fuse that can lead to a lot of harm.

Another personal jolt came when Irshad explained part of her Canadian history--a part that I had accepted and she twisted it (and shifted my thinking).  As a university student I had adopted Trudeaumania and went onto to help Pierre Trudeau (actually I helped elect Ed Broadbent--you can read about that  at http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/04/my-short-but-educational-political.html    

I attended a high school in Oshawa with a lot of ethnic diversity and came to admire it.  I had an understanding of the French Canadian concerns similar to Irshad's and thought it a good thing to adopt bilingual policies for the whole nation and further to adopt multiculturalism as government policy.  I did from time to time question that not everything brought over from other cultures was good, but it seemed part of the package.  Later with one job I was shocked to realize western Canadians were very resentful of bilingualism when I sold a promotional product and was told not to bother with the legally required French labeling.  Multiculturalism helped encourage white supremacy.

Obama had urged African Americans to emphasize with white Americans and not label them just as misguided as that would boomerang.  I remember  reading that his white grandmother cringed when confronted with a black person in an unfamiliar setting.  White males are recognizing that their culture and their power is diminishing.  Naturally there is some resentment.

White privilege can be a blessing if it puts one in a position to do good.  Dr Martin Luther King is recalled having admitted that he grew up in a loving and educated family with helpful neighbors. 

Cultural appropriation is given some coverage.  Irshad suggests that many cultural items have a mixed history.  One example given was that modern jazz required European instruments and African polyrhythms.  The Statue of Liberty was originally designed with an Arab theme intended to herald the Suez Canal.

A quote from Benjamin Franklin:  "I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present, but Sir I am not sure I shall ever approve it.  For having lived long I have experienced man instances of being oblig'd by better Information or fuller consideration, to change Opinions even on important Subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise."

This relatively short review is only meant to encourage you to rad the book, "Don't Label Me" and get a deeper understanding of the thinking and some practical advice on how to change your life and help change the world.  She is well worth learning more about.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Werner Herzog

My first awareness of Werner Herzog was through documentaries, but that is only part of what he has offered the world.  Man of eclectic and eccentric interests.  Some very deep thinking once one is willing to deviate from the mainstream.  He made an impression with movie critic Roger Ebert who felt film criticism should be more than celebrity news.

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (2010) was the first film that I consciously became aware of Werner Herzog.  A very difficult location to show caveman art from 30,000 years ago.  Hard to imagine what would drive men to live in such an inaccessible hiding shelter.  Also what sparked one of our ancestors to express themselves in early art. A real challenge for cinematography by Peter Zeitlinger.  Although Werner did not like 3-D he filmed this one in 3-D as he felt it added to the perception of the art on curved cave rock.

Peter Zeitlinger got Werner's attention by his skill with a hand held camera.  He had been born in Prague, but raised in Austria.  Once hired by Werner, the two worked on many films, including dramas and documentaries.  Zeitlinger once commented that "Werner is a director who thinks in terms of inner vision."

Werner, born in Germany formed his own film company in 1963, but always found financing films precarious. He gained experience with short films.  His first feature was "Signs of Life" in 1968.  It won an award at the Berlin Film Festival.and another German award.  Some accounts of notable movies, some of which I saw.

"The Enigma of Kaspar Hausar" (1974) was about a mysterious appearance in 1828 in Nuremberg who seemed almost mute and in poor condition, but suspected might have royal connections.

"Fitzcarraldo" (1982)  demonstrates Herzog's striving for realism.    Based on a true story where a man intent on bringing opera to the Amazon jungle switched a boat over a hill by dismantling and then reassembling, only Herzog insisted on moving the boat intact.   He could have taken an easy location near a city, but opted to go deep into the jungle.  Werner believed location was essential not only for visual effect, but to put actors and crew voodoo of location.

A separate movie directed by Les Bank,  "Burden of Dreams" recorded much of the extraordinary obstacles Herzog dealt with boiling down to time and money.  The movie was originally scheduled during the rainy season to avoid a boat being grounded in shallow water.  The lead actor Jason Robards became ill and left and soon after Mick Jagger also had to leave for an album commitment.  Claudia Cardinale had been hired.  These delays led to other delays and some boredom and tension among crew and native extras and helpers.  At one point at the urging of a Catholic priest he hired some prostitute to avoid trouble with rival tribes.  All this in turn led to financial stress.  Watching this Werner spoke German, English and Spanish.  Won best director award at the Cannes Film Festival. 

Joe Bini teamed up as editor for "Little Dieter Needs to Fly in 1997 .  He went onto work on several movies, both documentaries and dramas with Werner. Werner did not want editor on set as he felt they had to be independent.    An interesting short seen as a special feature was about the music selections for "The Grizzly Man."  As editor Joe appeared as edits had to be matched up to music.  Werner, was not musical, but had definite ideas and for this film had brought in musician/composer Richard Thompson and some other musicians to develop a score from the ground.   He feels that cinema lines up with music better than any other art.  Bini was noted for "We Need To Talk About Kevin," "You Were Never Really Here," and "Manhunt:  The Inside Story of the Hunt for Bin Ladin."

"My Best Fiend" (1999) related Werner's experience with Klaus Kinski who was a very difficult actor to work with.  Physical threats were part of their relationships, but at the same time Werner felt Kinski gave a unique feel to the 5 movies he appeared in.  Kinski had died beforehand and Werner wanted to remember him and their relationship.

"The White Diamond" (2004) was a documentary on exploring the rain forest using a unique airship that provided some drama of its own.  Won a New York Film Critics Circle Award (tied with "Grizzly Man").

 "Grizzly Man" (2005) was filmed from videos by Timothy Treadwell after his death and supplemented with interviews with friends and relatives.  Timothy comes off maniacal, but did make friends with wild grizzlies and try to communicate their role in nature.  Unfortunately Timothy and a girl friend were killed and eaten by an unfamiliar bear, part of which was recorded. 

"Encounters at the end of the world" (2007) no penguins (actually a brief reference with a penguin expert)--focuses on humans that came to McMurdo--quite a wide range of eccentric people--one thought that scared me a bit was a linguist who commented that it was likely that 90% of languages would disappear in his lifetime--comparing to species extinction-- a great loss.  Nominated for an Oscar.



"Bad Lieutenant:  Port of Call New Orleans" (2009)  was about depravity and madness with Nicolas Cage portraying (to really good reviews) a corrupt and addicted cop.  His girl friend was played by Eva Mendes.

"Into the Abyss" (2011) about really about the death penalty.  In this film Werner is exploring what makes killers kill and others want to kill the killer.  He had one interview with a condemned inmate just a few days before his scheduled execution.  Some details of the original crime were discussed, but the focus was on why the killing for both the individual and the state.  My understanding was that Werner was against the death penalty not so much because the accused may deserve it, but that someone had to do it. 

"Red Army"(2014) used Werner as executive producer.  An interesting movie for both hockey and non-hockey fans.  Filmed in North America and Russia.  One of my more popular blogs:   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/the-red-army.html


"Queen of the Desert" (2015)  was about part of the life of Gertrude Bell and her her efforts in the Mid East.  Nicole Kidman played the title lead role.   Although she did influence events, much of her advice was ignored.


Werner Herzog narrates most of his documentaries and often appears as an interviewer or presenter with a gentle accented voice that compels listening.

A Werner Herzog quote picked up from Facebook:  "Dear America:  You are waking up as Germany once did to the awareness that 1/3 of your people would kill another 1/3 while 1/3 watches."

Another quote that hit me was by Roger Ebert during a review of a Herzog film, "...feel I am lucky to be old because there may not be another lifetime's length of happiness left for most people on earth." After he died I wrote a blog that if you don't know him will give some insights:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/04/a-few-thoughts-on-roger-ebert.html   The fact that he admired Werner Herzog enough to write a book of reviews and interviews "Herzog by Ebert" is enough to warrant more explorations.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Guilty Pleasure: Lisa Salander and Mikael Blomkvist

On principle I didn't want to tackle this book--I thoroughly enjoyed the three Stieg Larsson's books and felt his common law wife, Eva Gabrielsson deserved a chance to carry on his legacy (which she was already a part of).  When Larsson died at age 50 his triology had not been published, but has since gone on to sell over 80 million copies worldwide.  Unfortunately despite a 32 year relationship there was no will and all rights were claimed by his father and brother.  There must have been some hard feelings in the family, but rather than recognizing her rights (having contributed to the three books and having custody of notes for future books) they ended up hiring another writer.

David Lagercrantz was an established crime reporter, but his main claim to fame was as the ghost writer for soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  There was some sniping about his qualifications and the sequel, "The Girl in the Spider's Web" was written under a great deal of secrecy with concern that hacker's might get a preview.

"The Girl in the Spider's Web" kept showing up on displays at the library and I recalled the enjoyment of reading about Lisa Salander and Mikael Blomkvist.  The books were complex and also covered into motivations of multiple characters.  Mostly I have been reading non fiction, but approaching my retirement I resolved to read more fiction books, but now that I am retired have made little headway

A year or so ago  "The Hypnotist" showed up in a pickup bin at work and got my attention as I had been intrigued by a movie trailer of the book.   The movie got a bad review, but the topic seemed interesting and the book turned out to be a page turner.  Scandinavian mystery writers have been prominent in my fiction reading lists including Henning Markell and Jo Nesbo.

All that is my rationale.  It was like being tempted by ice cream, a weakness of mine. If Eva Gabrielson does come up with either a novel or non fiction account I will be eager to read it.

Like the earlier editions, this book is at first difficult to get into as a lot of snippets start off innocently, but interest picks up as they start to link and/or suggest there will be more links  Conspiracies involve most of the world, but mostly Scandinavian countries, Russia and United States.

There is an interesting discussion on autism.  We tend to focus on the genius side and the quirky side without dealing with the social mismatch.  But the book is more interesting because the autistic character is also a unique savant which plays a key role in the plot. 

Another topic that is central is artificial intelligence.  Extreme research is the key secret that various factions are manoeuvring to uncover or protect.  The author with scant reference to Isaac Asimov's, "I, Robot" contends a great danger is that the machine will inevitably be able to out think humans.

The main characters are extended in a consistent pattern with what we already know.  We do learn more family history of Lisa Salander.  Most lovers of the series will find themselves adjusting fairly easily.

I have relieved myself of a small portion of guilt.  Ideas are fragile and it is slippery to retain ownership over a period of time although there are legal efforts to do so.  Eva Gabrielsson deserved better and I still feel like I have let her down.  I hope she gets something out so I can relieve more of my guilt feelings.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Election Interference is serious problem

One thing that came out of the Mueller Report was that the Russians were very active at trying to effect the outcome of the American election.  At the top there is denial which may in part be due to an over sensitive ego.  Others are happy with the result.  Some of us aren't happy with the results and perhaps we can be accused of seeking an excuse for our poor performance or predictions.

Is this healthy?  As a possible excuse seeker, my opinion might be suspect, but I ask that even those happy with the results take a longer view.

The Russians have a history of interfering in elections (for that matter so does the U.S.)  They are supposed to have interfered in the Brexit election and in Ukraine.  Even if some in the U.S. are happy, perhaps they should consider the motivations of the Russians.  Do they really worry about abortions or gay rights or immigration?  Perhaps, but more obviously they are interested in relieving sanctions, freedom to pursue their goals, particularly with what they consider their sphere of influence. Perhaps Putin has his own sensitivities and was offended by Hilary Clinton who bluntly criticized him.

The point is Russia had goals that were not necessarily in the best interest of Americans.  Russia appears to want to upset alliances such as NATO and the EU. Trump played a small role in these efforts.

But Russia is only one country and there are many with capabilities of interfering and some of them might be interested in upsetting Trump or the Republicans.  China and Iran have conflicts.  Other nations would have different goals such as North Korea, Israel and Saudi Arabia.  Many other nations might feel they have vested interests that need to be steered.

With the U.S. political system sometimes offering a party to gain power with minority support the losers can be resistant to the results.  When there is any suspicion that the election itself was unfair there is always danger of rebellion in one form or another.

Personally I would like to add that any party that actually needed foreign help to win might not have the best interest of their voters in mind.  For instance the recent tax cut benefited the wealthiest the most in absolute dollars, but more importantly is already generating an increased deficit.  De-regulations that enable greater profit for business also remove financial and environmental protections that will do great harm over a period of time.  Budget cuts for education and health care can not only hurt individuals, but are bad for society.

Solutions are known, but the political will of the American Senate is suspect.   Some senators such as Mitch McConnell have a vested interest in the status quo.

Any time the will of the people is thwarted it hurts.  Even if it happens in another country.  In addition we need to be concerned that the will of the people is subject to manipulation.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

THE MUELLER REPORT AND THE AMERICAN VOTER

The American voter is making me feel naive.  It is hard to understand how they could support a man who lies, who brags, who displays ignorance, who denigrates in every direction and in my opinion has policies that hurt almost everyone.  The best explanation seems to be that the Republicans and Mr Trump have consolidated a lot of one issue voters who do not analyze much beyond that one issue.

The 1% and those aspiring to it are focused on economic issues such as lower tax rates and de-regulation.  Both of these issues if they had their way are very likely to hurt everyone else.  They understand this as well as anyone.  To maintain their status they have to offer something in order to gain control.  The spin doctors have developed at least three categories that are reinforced by a few superficial issues.  The main categories are gun rights, bigotry and abortion.  There is a natural overlapping, but for many they are focused on their one issue. The Republicans have added in patriotism reflected in superficial aspects such as respect for the flag and other symbols and more critically military power.

Gun rights are supposedly based on the second amendment, but in truth it can be interpreted quite differently than the NRA has chosen.  Aside from constitutional justification (some might say twisting) they rely on fear.  Fear feeds on bigotry.  The reality is that Americans have put themselves in great danger from accidents, suicides, impulsive responses, abusive power that in fact they have a scary rate of deaths by guns.  Gun rights garner so much emotional support that its advocates are not swayed by policies on other issues.

Bigotry is really just prejudice taken to more extremes.  We all make pre-judgments as part of our heredity.  We do not readily understand the other.  We tend to congregate around those we feel most comfortable with.  Demographic trends  are that the establishment white race is losing power.  Traditionally older straight white males have had the most power and they can see that power is diminishing.  We live in a global society whether we leave our neighborhood or not.  Former colonies are asserting their rights.  Women, homosexuals, ethnic minorities and even youth are much more assertive and disrespectful.  When jobs are hard to come by it is easy to blame the "others."  We are stronger as a group when everyone gets an equal chance to contribute. Bigotry is very often counter-productive--check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/06/dying-of-whiteness.html

Abortion is very emotional.  Life is sacred and abortion is literally murder.  But we have to acknowledge that when faced with an unwanted pregnancy people (men as well as women) it is seen as a life threatening situation.  If legal abortion is not available many (including conservatives and even Christians) would seek illegal abortions, even crude versions.  Women die, other lives are "ruined."  One study demonstrated that a significant reason for a decline in crime rates was that after abortion was legalized fewer potential criminals were born, i.e. for the most part those born in poverty and dysfunctional parenting.

One obvious solution is sex education coupled with easier access to contraception.   Also make parenting easier with supportive economic policies and more tolerance.  It seems that many of those opposed to abortion are also concerned about promiscuity and thus are also against anything that enables more sex.  Some feel the only justification for sex is procreation.  Many feel promiscuity must be punished (stated by Trump himself) and frown on those who are guilty.  In reality promiscuity is often harmful to both individuals and society, but sex is also perhaps the most effective bonding agent which can lead to strong family relations.

How does all this relate to Mueller's report?  America is polarized.  Outside political realities people are unique, but the political structure Americans live in force most of them into one of two parties.  Sure other parties do receive votes, but if you are really determined to affect the outcome it is logical to choose one or the other party.

What I believe has happened is that government has developed to be very complicated and very distant that few really analyze the choice.  Loyalties among relatives and friends are common and social pressures to stick with the team are underlying.  Big money and ever developing modern technology are used to manipulate us.   Check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/07/dark-money-by-jane-mayer.html

What that boils down to is most Americans are committed to one of the parties and do not pay much attention to the other party except to find criticism.

I guess the slick lawyers would say the case against Donald Trump is circumstantial at best and likely rigged by the Deep State.  But when circumstances were being attributed to the Democrats facts were twisted and spun and I must admit seemed extremely false.  The Benghazi attack was a very unfortunate occurance, but not particularly unexpected.  A dangerous place in which those directly involved realized was risky.  The Obama administration had its role by opting to get involved in Libyan rebellion, but Republicans were very quick to attack and tenacious when they felt they could spin it into something evil.

What is visible to anyone who read the report or even just followed the news from a reliable source is the evidence casts strong suspicions.  Multiple contacts between Trump's team and the Russians tied to actual policies and public statements.  Trump rejected government intelligence resources in favor of Putin.  Trump made many public obstruction efforts which by themselves would indicate he is hiding something.  He is the first presidential candidate to refuse to reveal his tax returns.  On top of all that the Mueller report is obviously reminding us of the many instances of obstruction and contact that Russians made determined and systematic efforts to turn the election to Trump's favor.  One must wonder why and note that Russia has indeed attained some of its goals.

A good hunk of Trump's supporters are indifferent or even adamant the whole process is rigged against a man who has done commendable things they feel are worth whatever it took.

The commendable things include a very harsh campaign against desperate refugees both from south of their border and from the Mid East.  De-regulating has progressed, but without too close a look in fact are removing financial and environmental protections for everyone.  Budget cuts to education and health care stand to have long term disastrous results.  Withdrawing from the Paris and Iran Nuclear agreements are having potentially catastrophic results.  Bending the Supreme Court and lower courts to conservative (Trumpian) outcomes which will drag on for decades with likely unhealthy consequences.  To top all that off, security measures to protect their election integrity are being sidelined.

To me an underlying problem is inequality.  It has always been that those who have power are able to set the rules and build increasing wealth and power.  The only thing that breaks this trend is a revolution.  Revolutions are stigmatized by those in power and for most of us they are frightening because they upset our comfortable status quo.

The wealthy and powerful are able to draw in enough of the masses to defend the status quo sometimes, as now by diverting attention from the real problems.  In a recent blog about "Amusing ourselves to death" it was assumed we are headed for a dystopia, but that there are two contrasting versions of the vehicle.  "1984" represents a harsh path with censorship, a police state, etc.  "Brave New World" by contrast suggests the path may involve pleasurable things (diversions) like drugs and sex.  One can see both trends. check out http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/05/amusing-ourselves-to-death.html

On one hand we can see censorship and police state trends globally.  On the other hand the world seems relatively sexually liberated and literally millions even perhaps billions are using drugs to deal with life's unfairness.  Entertainment permeates our lives, even to imbibing news.  In education one can see trends towards money making while the arts and philosophy take a back seat.

What can be done?  The Democrats are at present opting for a slow walk feeling they can win big in the next election.  The Republicans are using their resources to stomp down on the truth and divert attention.  The Democrat presidential candidates smelling an opportunity are bringing up policies that appeal to progressives, but scare many moderates.  One can imagine the Republicans will welcome a top heavy progressive Democrat candidate, yet the Democrats seem to want to outdo one another.

The testimony did in fact reinforce a lot of damning evidence that may overcome the Republican attacks and Trump's vociferous claims of vindication.  There are also several ongoing investigations that may prove to be more damaging, but time can also diminish their impact.  The Democrats need to voice the evidence more loudly.  The Republicans were continually rebuffed on their Benghazi attacks, but continued and it probably was a factor in Hilary Clinton's defeat.  We can be certain the Republican spin machine will be loud and over whelming.

Naomi Klein noted that progressives have many separate causes, but they are not united as the Republicans are.  Some deep thinking needs to be done.  For example Naomi points out the alliance between native groups and environmentalists have given each more power towards their goals.  Many groups are devoted to overcoming discrimination against homosexuals, females, the disabled, racial and religious entities.  Climate change has energized many activists.  Others are trying to use gun controls to make a safer country.  Still others are concerned about inequality.  There is a little overlap in these concerns, but if each group realizes they have more power working together great things can be accomplished.  Compromises will need to be made, but respecting the concerns of other people can enable a much better result.  The sooner these compatible causes work together the sooner they can assert themselves.  Check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/05/naomi-klein-writes-another-insightful.html

As many of you know I am Canadian and we have our share of problems, but we have more than two parties and the "extra" parties do have some power, so we have more choices.  I also believe proportional voting would give even more choices that would give better government.  As Canadians we are small and we know it--what happens in United States has a profound effect on us. What are you going to do about it?

JOHN FORD

John Ford is considered by many to have been one of the best directors America has ever produced.  One such claim came from Orson Welles.  Born in 1894 in Maine as John Feeney he followed an older brother who had changed his name to Francis Ford, to Hollywood.  Francis had taken the plunge into acting eventually taking part in close to 500 films and also doing some directing.  John, now Jack Ford started as an actor, but in 1923 deciding to be a director changed his name to John Ford.

One of his attractive qualities was his ability to tell a compelling story.  He was fond of a number of actors that he felt comfortable with allowing him to shoot scenes with only one or two takes.  Preparation was key. He once said "never let them talk unless they have something to say."

He was noted to have spoken French, German, Gaelic and even Chinese in the course of his work.  

As he was best known for westerns where Indians were usually portrayed  as the antagonists, there was curiosity as to what he really thought of the Indians.  One quote dug up, "We've treated them badly, it's a blot on our shield.  we've robbed, cheated, murdered and massacred them, but if they kill one white man and God out come the troops."  Mostly Indians were stereo typed in his films.

Just watched one interview in which he appeared arrogant while at the same time self-deprecating--he said he only did movies for the money. 

His first success was "The Iron Horse" in 1924.  The subject was a trans continental railroad that had been authorized by Abraham Lincoln.  This film represented at the time the greatest migration from Hollywood for an  location.  Location was preferred by John and he spent a lot of time trying to get the right one.  There were thousands of extras, including many Chinese who had been some of the workers on the railroad.  Ford depicted a cattle drive and battle scenes that were realistic..  The plot revolved around a short cut that would cut time and expense, but not desired by other financial interests.

Did 3 films with Will Rogers, one of America's favorite humourist.  In 1933 Ford directed "Doctor Bull," in 1934 directed "Judge Priest" and 1935 directed "Steamboat Round the Bend."

In 1931 he won his first Oscar for "The Informer"  a psychological drama starring Victor McLagen who won the best actor Oscar.  With a limited budged Ford used cinematography to enhance psychological tension.

"Drums along the Mohawk"  (1939) was Ford's only film regarding the American Revolution and it focuses on upstate New York.  Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert play a young married couple and the viewer watches how they change over the course of about two years during the early Revolution.  We see the conflicts between the Americans and the Tories supported by Indians from Six Nations that were eventually brought to Canada less than an hour from where I live.  In the movie they are depicted as cruel savages who are sedated by the end leaving out that they were victimized by a scorched earth policy.

"Mary of Scotland" (1936) was an early movie for Katherine Hepburn.  Lots of bagpipes and drums to heighten tension for battles  Fredric March also starred.

"Wee Willie Winkie" (1937) with Shirley Temple and Victor McLagen.

"Young Mr. Lincoln" (1939) showed the character building days of Lincoln.  Ford talked Henry Fonda into role.  Highlights an early criminal trial that helped establish Lincoln's reputation.

"Stagecoach" (1939) was his first film with John Wayne.   It won two Oscars (for music and Thomas Michell as best supporting actor.  The movie itself and Ford were nominated. A more realistic western that helped solidify Ford's reputation in that genre.








"The Grapes of Wrath" (1940) based on the John Steinbeck novel was a social protest.   Ford won an Oscar as did supporting actress Jane Darnell.  Five other nominations including for Henry Fonda and for best picture. 

"How Green was My Valley" (1941)  with Maureen O'Hara and Walter Pidgeon.  Filmed in California to look like Wales.

"The Battle of Midway" (1942) won an Oscar  18 minute--endangered just like sailors and airmen.  Did 7? one of which was used in Nuremberg Trials.   Propaganda

In World War II he enlisted and was assigned to make documentary films.  He was awarded an Oscar for a short and another for documentary.  Interesting one of his documentaries, "Nazi Concentation and Prison Camps" was submitted as evidence in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

"Pinky" (1949) not credited with director, but did assist Elia Kazan--racially sensitive--Oscar nominations

"The Quiet Man" (1952) was an obsession of Ford's, but no one was willing to help finance it--Maureen O'Hara was on board--a deal was finally made that Ford would direct some profitable westerns to justify the expense.  The last of three three westerns, "Rio Grande" (1950) brought Maureen together with John Wayne which worked out very well.  The film won two Oscars, one for John Ford and one for cinematographer Winton C. Hoch who also won Oscars for two other films directed by John Ford.  "The Quiet Man"  not only did well with awards, but also did much better at the box office than expected.

From Rio Grande (1950 )I was able to see some special feature.   A man who filmed so many westerns must have thoughts on horses and riders.  For Rio Grande he decided a demonstration of Roman riding- (standing on two horses in motion).  Ben Johnson had been a stunt man who happened to rescue some actors and was promoted to an acting role as a reward and became Ford'smost reliable rider

"Wagon Master" (1950) with Ben Johnson and some other familiar Ford actors, Jane Darwell, Harry Carey Jr. and his  brother Francis Ford.  James Arness who later made it big with "Gunsmoke,"  a tv show I watched with my father.

"The Long Gray Line"  (1955) more comedy, but set at West Point   Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara.  Ford received an Oscar nomination.

"The Horse Soldiers" (1959) was another John Wayne vehicle with William Holden. and old time silent star Hoot Gibson.  Another Oscar nomination for Ford.

"The Man who Shot Liberty Valance"(1962)  with John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles and Lee Marvin.  A few familiar faces with Andy Devine and John Carradine.  The only one of all these movies and a rarity for all my blogs that I actually saw at a movie theatre.  Must have been 14 and using my paper route earnings.

Movies are just a way of telling stories and John Ford provided a stream of enjoyable movies.   He was rewarded with 4 Oscars, the most for any director to date.

John died in California in 1993.  The only one to win 4 Oscars as a director.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

RACISM--WE ARE ALL GUILTY

Prejudice simply means pre-judging.  We all note differences including non visible differences.  It is in our genes to make a quick assessment, otherwise we might be killed or raped or possibly helped.  We fear what we don't understand as the world is a dangerous place.  We feel safest and most comfortable among people most like ourselves.

In another blog I learned that the wisest people withhold judgment until they get more facts.    http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/10/the-wisest-one-in-room.html  But in order to survive a quick, even instantaneous decision is often required.  If we are wrong we could be dead.  However better decisions are more likely when one has more time.  It is normal for first impressions to stick until counter evidence is over whelming.   Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, "I don't like that man, I must get to know him better."  The first question after encountering something new should be "Why might my initial impression be wrong?"

We are each unique and capable of contributing to our society given a chance.  Society benefits when everyone is given that chance.  A chance actually starts before birth.  Are our parents treated fairly?  Stress and nutrition are factors while we are still in the womb.  After birth are we given an equal opportunity to learn including avoidance of unhealthy distractions?  Are decisions concerning our future made based on merit?  We likely will never achieve perfection, but should always push towards the goal.

Of course some of us are quicker to recognize opportunity and some realize preparation is critical.  As a collective we do not always realize we all benefit when choices are based on reason and not prejudice (or bias).  We need to respect and encourage individuals who can lead us to a better world but that includes everyone.

Politicians gain power by appealing to emotions.  They use that power to stay in power and expand conntrol.  Republicans have long known that the average American would not support their economic agenda and the only way to achieve power is to appeal to emotions by tying a social agenda. Donald Trump did a masterful job of projecting fear and assigning blame.  His simple solutions hurt many people and are counter productive but appeal to enough people to allow him to indulge in his own personal agenda (which nobody really understands).  Racism has proved to be very effective.

Lyndon Johnson once said, "If you can convince the lowest of white men he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket."  It is so frustrating for those who understand the economic agenda of the Republicans to see those who are getting hurt the most base their vote on social issues and non policy factors. 

When there are problems people look for simple solutions.  We live in a complicated world.  Automation is diminishing the need for manual labour and increasingly so for brain work.  The world is so connected that powerful people can more easily find the weak spots to exploit. We are reaching the limits of what the planet can provide.  Powerful people are in conflict.  There are no simple solutions to most of the serious problems and we need to resist those who offer them.

Ignorance is inescapable.  Education means learning and scraping away a portion of ignorance.  Intelligent people realize they can never know everything.  Education is not just an economic opportunity to be exploited, but critical tools we all need for a fulfilling life.

Homo Sapiens originated in Africa.  Skin was black to protect against the sun--when men moved to cooler climates with less sunlight they needed less melanin and gained advantages of Vitamin D.  In due time  there were many superficial changes in humans while the core remained the same.

What do "others" offer us?  A different perspective.  Uniqueness.  Potential.  Why do we close doors?  Familiarity fosters understanding, but true equality will go forward in uneven steps.  Education is only part of the solution, but a necessary part with many possible approaches.  Racism is an obstacle we all need to overcome if we are to solve the most critical of problems.

An earlier blog with another angle on another side of the refugee crisis with racial implications:   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/01/the-brain-drain-fromshithole-countries.html    

A recent blog that discusses how racism actually costs lives:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/06/dying-of-whiteness.html

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Future is Asian

Everyone tends to think they live in the centre of the world.  Western intellectuals see a world that revolves around their view, but Parag Khanna points out that Asia has been re-asserting itself for several years and now represents the future.  Asia is defined more widely than most of us concede.  According to Parag Khanna it extends from Turkey (includes much of Russia) through the Middle East (termed the Far West by Asians) and goes all the way to Australia and New Zealand (those two bastions of Western democracy).

Napoleon is supposed to have said about China, "let her sleep for when she wakes she will shake the world."  It is our turn to wake up to figure out how best to fit in a new world order.

Many western countries are counting on breaking into the Asian market not only to grow, but in some cases to survive.  They will have to adjust.  For instance McDonald's has done well, but a look at their menus will demonstrate they have emphasized local preferences.  

Asians now hold more than 55% of U.S. treasuries.  They have felt it was a safe place to keep excess money, but are already finding alternatives. 

Asian consumers, especially the younger generation are not as enamored of Western brands as their parents once were.  They are finding good value with Asian products.  At the same time Americans are buying more Asian goods and in many cases Asian manufacturers are setting up plants in North America.   It is no longer just cheap labour that gives Asians an edge, but professionalism.

There are actually 53 nations in Asia and they are beginning to communicate with one another. Although there is great diversity in Asia they are learning when they work together they are stronger.

Mobile banking is new, but Asians have adopted it quicker than Americans and Europeans partly because they have not been as entrenched in established banking practices.

Asians were attracted to Europe and North America for education and many of them used to find jobs in the host country.  That also is changing.  Not only are Asians finding quality education alternatives in Asia, but also the rest of the world is starting to enroll in Asian education institutions.  Another key trend is that Asian graduates are more inclined to go back home where they can make a difference.

What is Donald Trump doing after rejecting the TPP agreement?  Trying to be tough with China, Korea and Japan.  He has also been tough with his allies and Iran.  The reaction of most is to look for alternatives.  Asia has been building up a middle class as well as connections between them.  Asia has been reaching out to Europe, Africa and Latin America and a two way response is developing.

One book suggests United States and China are at risk of war.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/09/u-s-and-china-may-be-headed-towards.html  

Another view that points to a Chinese strategy:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/05/chinas-secret-strategy-to-replace.html  Two possible sources of future tension are when the Dalai Lama dies and China tries to impose a replacement and when China decides they can take stronger action on Taiwan.

Singapore is considered a model, not only for Asia, but also for the rest of the world.  One theme parallels what I learned from Plato's "Republic."  He envisioned an ideal society based on merit.  Children would be universally cared for, but at different ages would be tested to determine which ones were most suitable to be rulers, which ones would run businesses and the remainder would be workers.  In Singapore education is critical.  In order to be president one must have served as an education minister.  Instead of democracy they are described a technocracy, but enjoy many of the benefits of what we consider democracy.  There is a real effort to find out what the people really want.  Talent is rewarded, but wealth is spread around for everyone's benefit. Civil bureaucrats are well educated and rewarded.  Trust is developed between the rulers and the ruled.  There is little crime or corruption.  One of the first decisions made after winning independence was to make English the main language as there were already established 3 languages (Chinese, Tamil and Malay that were striving for dominance.  My father once declared the best government would be a benevolent dictatorship might have found Singapore the closest example.

Asian cultural influences are everywhere.  We eat their food.  Many of us enjoy Bollywood, K pop, yoga, martial arts, etc. and buy huge amounts of Asian products and technology.   Asians have influenced philosophy and encouraged mindfulness.  They have contributed to Western enjoyment of life and are being rewarded for doing so.

Immigration of Asians has been going on for over a century and there are significant diasporas from different ethnic groups and in many different countries that are leaving their mark.  The fastest growing language in the United States is Telegu.  Inter-marriage both within Asia and with outsiders is bringing a real influence (and hopefully better understanding).

There is much more significant detail and acknowledgment of problems.  The world is changing and we will all feel the Asian influence intruding our lifestyle.  It could be pleasant.

No time to read the book?   Need a little bit more incentive?   Check out a one hour talk focusing on the book:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VX_Z4qIBrfc

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Women's World Cup

The Women's World Cup, does not yet get the attention afforded the men's version.  A pity.  Yes, women are not as fast, as strong and maybe not as talented as the male stars, but they do possess skills while speed and strength are relative.  The games can be just as dramatic.

A few random thoughts.

The U.S. trashing of Thailand 13-0 gave me very mixed feelings.  It demonstrates the Women's World Cup  is not quite ready to expand the format to 32 teams.  To sustain interest it needs to be competitive.  Americans seemed to rejoice as the embarrassment most of us felt for the underdogs.  Later a player mocked the English team mimicking their tea drinking habits.

Thailand got a shock that must have humiliated some of their players and country people, but also inspired them to want to play better-.  Americans have a reputation of arrogance, but some of the goals were first goals, etc.  Sportsmanship suggests you need to lose gracefully, but others suggest to not gloat when winning.  It is good for everyone when anyone progresses as it forces the others to compete a little harder.  Thailand scored their first goal in the 91st minute against Sweden.  They demonstrated a joy comparable to actually winning.

US team sued American Soccer Association for equal pay with the men.  As some have pointed out it has marketing concerns.  What are fans willing to pay for?  If the fans are not willing in large enough numbers to pay actual money where is the money for equality to come from.   In many U.S. colleges the revenue from big ticket sports like basketball and football are shared with less popular sports in recognition that the other sports offer value for the students who participate and others who watch. 

 Apparently some men's teams have agreed to share revenue for the women's version.  Perhaps there are guilt feelings, but maybe they see some advantages.  Physical activity to good for all.  Most of us who spend time and money watching sporting events have had some active connection at some point in their life.  Women increasingly drive many decisions such what career to pursue, what things to buy, what people to have relations with.  The world is better off when women are listened to.

In passing I read one article about match fixing.  The more popular an activity is, it appears more people are interested to bet on the outcomes.  The more money involved the more attraction to cheat.  Cheating takes from the enjoyment of the fans and the participants.     Of course betting is often a major attraction for an event as those gambling have a vested interest in the outcome. 

As for me, I didn't bet, but I enjoyed the event and only regret that I didn't see more minutes.  The skills were more advanced than I anticipated.  I especially enjoyed trapping and passing.  Basketball is still my favorite sport where skills more often end up in a measurable result.  Soccer and hockey are much lower scoring meaning each goal is a combination of skill and luck and I feel the loser often could just as easily have won.  A centimeter or 1/10 of second can be the difference. 

Personalities do make a difference.  The top contenders all had an exceptional player that was a joy ot watch.  The Americans had several.  Megan Rapinoe stood out not only as a goal scorer, but also for her very public declarations regarding Donald Trump.  She also made an excellent speech commemorating the importance of women in sports.

The Women's World Cup has made for a better world.  If you missed this one and think of yourself as a sports lover, don't miss the next one.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is a well deserved celebrity in her own right.  I remember seeing her for the first time on a tv interview and and being impressed with her thoughtful answers.  It is disturbing that so many ignorant people have found trivial things to criticize with a racist undertone.

She describes her upbringing in Chicago with parents determined to steer her towards a better future.  Her parents were family oriented each with a network of aunts, uncles and cousins.    Her father worked for the city and despite having MS never missed a shift in 26 years.  Her mother made the conscious decision to stay at home, but was active with the PTA.  Knowing her parents had little money Michelle deliberately didn't tell them about a school trip to France, but they found out and made the necessary sacrifices so she could go.

At one gathering at about the age of 10 she was accused  of "talking like a white."  She was conscious that she and her brother Craig spoke differently than many of their cousins.  At home there was encouragement to use proper diction and refer to dictionaries and encyclopedia.  As an adult there was an awareness that language and race confused many people.

Qualifying for a magnet school opened up doors.  Early bus rides. helped reinforce discipline  Befriended daughter of Jesse Jackson who later sang at her wedding.

Her brother Craig won an athletic scholarship to Princeton.  She wanted to go to university on the east coast and Princeton seemed logical and she was accepted.  Later she studied law at Harvard.

She met Obama through work and although he was older he was under her at the law firm.  She asked her brother to evaluate Obama, but as both loved basketball this test was easily passed.  At this time she was living with her parents as she was heavily in debt.  After her marriage they both lived with her parents.

After marriage Barrack was increasingly getting involved in politics which created stress in the family as he was away from home.  She worked and was able to get meaningful tasks making good money while her mother took care of the children.

Several decisions meant risks and increasing responsibilities for her husband.  She felt he could do good things, but separations led to arguments.  At one point they went to counseling which helped.  The big decision was to run for president where he would be disadvantaged by the entrenchment of Hilary Clinton.  At the beginning Clinton was polling very good with blacks, but once Barrack proved he could be a winner after Iowa the blacks supported him and helped carry him to White House.

Once in the White House, ironically Barrack was able to spend more time with his family.  Michelle recounts some of the politics of the 8 years, but for her, keeping her two daughters living as normal as possible was her main focus.  She did get involved with a few First Lady projects and joined up with Jill Biden to help support veterans.  The event that effected her the most was the Newtown School massacre.

Towards the end of the book she looked forward to getting out of the limelight.  I have heard a few pundits suggest she should run for president (and I would agree), but to squelch such efforts she very strongly stated she was not interested at all.  One of my hopes would be for Barrack to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Reading her book one gets an insight into what a politician's wife and a First Lady has to put up with.  There are not many inside secrets about policies, although some little bits about living in the White House and traveling with the President or on any trips related to her position of First Lady.  When Donald Trump promulgated the birther movement Michelle resented his endangering her family.  She set a good standard for her position which many appreciate, but there are still many that resent  a black family in the White House.  If they were open minded enough to read this book their outlook likely would change (maybe).

Monday, June 24, 2019

LET HER FLY

Malala has deservedly gotten the attention of the world, me included.  But she didn't emerge from a vacuum.  Her family, especially her father played an irreplaceable role.   Ziauddin Yousafzai came to the  Hamilton Public Library and when asked what he did, mainly he advised "Don't clip her wings."  He did more than that but his idea was that we all have potential, but too often society imposes restrictions.

Ziauddin might best be described as an educational activist.  He started a school from scratch (3 students) and developed it with both boys and girls up to 1100 students in the Swat Valley, Pakistan.  His foundation started a medical school in Karachi.  He now serves on various committees and travels to promote education worldwide for females.

We were entertained by a local sitar player and his tabla playing son.  


Ziauddin than read a brief section of his book dedicated to his wife and 5 sisters.  He sat down for an interview and also took questions from the audience.  Asked about a recent Canadian report regarding missing and murdered indigenous women he admittted his knowledge was scant, but one of the things he said was if all women were respected these sorts of things would not happen.

During his speech he occasionally had trouble with a few words.  In his book he wrote about a stammering problem he had as a youth and confessed that even after much effort he still has trouble once in a awhile.  He didn't let it stop him from being a teacher or a spokesman for world peace. 
For society to overcome prejudice education was needed to overcome.  He qualified by adding if still prejudiced,  the person had not received a quality education.

Asked about how her two brothers felt about Malala he recalled when her younger brother asked what it is like to have her as his sister he replied he couldn't imagine what it would be like for her not to be his sister. 

When Ziauddin was growing up he lived in an environment lop sided in favor of men and it seemed natural to him..  The role of women was as servants to men; father, son and brothers.   As a teenager one of his cousins was a victim of an honour killing.  This helped to wake him up to the basic unfairness of inequality.   

Before his marriage he wanted to be a teacher and needed to get more pupils to justify his marriage.  At first he was also the janitor and the accountant.  He tried mixing boys and girls but there were so many complaints that he did separate them.  Before his departure he had over 1100 students.

The Taliban started causing problems in 2007 with girls' education a major target.  There was a ban on girls' education on January 15, 2009.  The government fought back, but Ziauddin received death threats.   Some of his friends were beheaded.  He carried on as best he could including secret classes for some students.  Malala was outspoken with her father's encouragement and drawing wide attention.

She was shot in the head October 9, 2012.  There was fear for her life and then fear for her mental facilities, but miraculously she not only survived, but maintained her abilities. 

After the shooting, the surgeon who provided medical care while still in Pakistan was Dr. Fiona Reynolds who was from Bimingham, England where Malala was transported for further treatment.  Dr Fiona kept up a relationship with the family spending a lot of time with the two sons, Khushal and Atal who in many ways adapted faster than their parents.

Toor Pekai , Malala's mother had been fairly independent in Pakistan, but in England she was restricted because she couldn't speak English.  This was overcome with the help of tutoring and Ziauddin gave a few examples of how she managed to adapt.  I would like to add that she accompanied her husband at the Hamilton meeting.

Malala's history is fairly well known.  She was asked to speak at the United Nations and after accepting received encouragement from many quarters.  The children of Benazir Bhutto sent her some of their mother's scarves and Malala who great admired Benazir wore one for her speech.  She  also was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  She took this honors as tools to help spread her campaign for girls education.  She has been to meet Syrian refugees in Jordan, to Kenya and many other global locations.  She is now studying at Oxford University.

A quote to remember her, "I don't want to be known as the girl who was shot. I want to be known as the girl who fought."

Thursday, June 20, 2019

"HOUSE OF TRUMP HOUSE OF PUTIN

"Russia has never tried to leverage over me.  I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA-NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING" tweeted from Donald Trump on January 11, 2017.  Nonetheless Craig Unger presents a very strong case that Trump was influenced by the Russians.  There seem to have been links with Russian mobsters both directly and indirectly.

It seems quite reasonable to be suspicious of these many links.  Craig Unger does have a reasonable amount of credibility.  Who are we to believe?  I would suggest that anybody not suspicious of what we know of the links must either be ignorant or have vested interests.

Putin and Trump have something in common.  Both have had a lot of contact with mobsters and whether or not they would publicly admit it many of the contacts were beneficial.   At one end we learn of some of the facts surrounding Putin's rise.

Trump has had many decades of contact with the Russians.  By 1984 Russians were looking at Trump Tower and a number bought units.  It is said when no one else would loan him money they did.  But more likely he laundered millions of dollars stolen by Russian mobsters.

At the time of the Berlin Wall breaking down, Putin was an intelligence officer in East Berlin. He considered the collapse of the Soviet empire "the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the century."  What was very alarming was that 13 Eastern block nations joined NATO and later most joined the EU.  He felt Ukraine could not be allowed to abandon the Russian dominance.

Putin ended back in his home town, lately renamed St. Petersberg and worked his way into the mayor's office.  With careful maneuvering aided by mobster connections he gained power.

Russia was forced to privatize many state owned businesses many of which were picked up by criminal elements at discounted prices.  In turn this created pressure to put money into safe havens.

When Trump invested in casinos in Atlantic City he was involved with mobsters.  Many wonder how the casinos could end up bankrupt.  Trump went for extravagance, broke state laws and did favors for mobsters.  In the end he was desperate, but shortly after his finances recovered.  The author gives credit to his laundering of Russian money.  He sold Florida properties to Russians through shell companies.

He bought 3 beauty pageants and decided one of the pageants should go to Moscow.  One of the mob connections waned to promote a singer and used this event as a platform.  Trump wanted to curry favor with Putin to help with his idea of a Moscow Trump Tower.

In 2004 Trump started with "The Apprentice" to boost his brand name.  By this time he was not so much building as selling his brand.

Putin stepped up his power surging all the way to the top maintaining contact with criminal elements.

Ukraine was a focus of Russian attention.  Paul Manafort who had a lot of Republican connections was hired to promote Russian interests in Kiev.  Because he didn't speak Russian or Ukrainian he was dependent on Konstantin Kilimnik, who had ties to Putin.  Manfort became in effect an intelligence officer working against American stated policy.  For a few elections they managed to elect a pro Russian president who would keep Ukriane out of NATO and the EU.  Hilary Clinton suspected skulduggery and actually supported Yulia Tymoshenko.  Eventually the Ukrainians rebelled and Manafort had to flee as well.  Later Hillary criticized a Russian election and earned Putin's enmity. 

Donald Trump had visited  Russia a number of times and had established himself as a person of interest decades ago.  Although there is only circumstantial evidence that the Russians had a hold on Trump, but the Russians had a long history of developing compromising material on people they thought might be useful.  After a 1987 visit to Moscow Trump took out full page ads in Boston, Washington and New York to criticize the American support for Japan.  A strange topic for a real estate developer to be concerned with, but in line with Russian policy.

Donald Trump had had presidential ambitions for decades, but as 2016 approached his confidence rose.  He had been instrumental in widening the birther claim.  The Republicans had targeted Hillary Clinton as the likely Democrat nominee.  The Benghazi campaign must have seemed unnecessarily vindictive and pointless, but Kevin McCarthy admitted that its purpose was to drive down the poll numbers for Hillary Clinton.

From my reading of the given narrative it was the Russians who sought Donald Trump.  First Putin disliked Hilary Clinton for her remarks on his integrity.  As part of his plan to regenerate Russia's glory Putin needed and sought American agents.  One suggestion the author makes is that the Trump Tower meeting considered a dud by Donald Jr., was really a pretext to see how much co-operation the Russians could expect.  Still it seemed Donald Trump was aware of the Russian efforts and encouraged them.

The reason he had years of problems trying to build a Moscow Trump Tower was that all his most of his other ventures were financed by laundered money from Russia which of course was not available for inside Russia.  

The author suggests the Russians interfered with a number of European elections and had an impact on the Brexit vote.  One motive for their involvement in Syria was that it created a refugee crisis which the Russians felt weakened Europe.  Putin wanted to break up both the EU and NATO and drew a line at Ukraine which he considered in the Russian sphere. 

Credibility is a concern, but the facts in this book have not really been challenged.  At the end of the book the author lists 59 people that connect Trump to Russia.  Most can be described as ethically questionable.  The book was dedicated to the memory of Russians who died in the pursuit of investigating Putin's kleptocracy singling out Paul Klebnikov, Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei Magnitsky and Anna Politkovskaya.

You can view a Youtube clip after the book:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mIRcGeELN4

We are still learning of Russian connections, but it must be admitted there were other factors in Trump's unexpected ascent to power. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/trump-enablers.html

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Dark Sky Rising

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is someone I know from television where he has always seemed a calm and intelligent man.  After I reserved this book, I learned that it was aimed at young readers and debated whether to actually read it.  First of all my knowledge of the reconstruction era is very scanty.  Second Henry is very erudite.  Maybe third it would be a quick read which turned out to be true.

A bit about the author.  Henry Louis Gates has had a long academic career involving Cornell, Yale and Harvard.   He has become well known on tv for major productions on African American history and lately for "Finding Your Roots."  In 2010 he was the first African American to have his genome fully sequenced.  A year before that he made national news after returning from trip to China he found his door jammed and his efforts to get in resulted in police being notified and he being charged with disorderly conduct which was dropped.  The incident drew attention when President Obama said that the Cambridge police had "acted stupidly."  A beer summit was called and it blew over.

We all know that the Ku Klux Klan did terrible things after the American Civil War, but what happened afterwards is critical to understand today's racial tensions.

The Civil War itself provided an opportunity for blacks to demonstrate their value   Frederick Douglas campaigned for blacks to be accepted in the U.S. army and became a recruiter.  180,000 served in the army and another19,000 in the navy.  Many blacks were able to provide useful intelligence for the Union cause.  Close to 40,000 died in their effort with 3/4 resulting from disease

In 1863 Lincoln proposed "Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction."  offering property to be returned to Southerners, except for slaves.  Also excepted were Senators, , high ranking Confederate officials and Confederate soldiers who had abused black soldiers and their white officers.  Further if 10% the white male voters of a state accepted the terms (including a pledge of allegiance), a new state could be formed and rejoin the Union.  Radical Republicans felt it was too lenient and there were arguments after Lincoln was assassinated.  Lincoln made a pocket veto over a stronger piece of legislation.

The Freedmen's Bureau created in March of 1865 to help former slaves to adjust to their new freedom.

There was a lot of resentment of being asked to accept former slaves as equals.  In 1866 in Memphis, Tennessee there was an conflagration resulting in the deaths of 2 whites and 46 blacks as well as 70 wounded.  Over a hundred black homes and 12 black schools were burned.

It seems there were two main philosophical forces after the Civil War.  One was for leniency to encourage the defector states to rejoin meaning they were not expected to humiliate themselves by conceding any more rights to former slaves than necessary.  This gave some the freedom to abuse blacks and restrict their rights.  The other force was to be tough on the defeated states, a stance taken by most of the abolitionists and this of course caused resentment.

After Andrew Johnson was declared president he was  anxious for the Confederate states to rejoin, but seemed unconcerned about black rights that were being attacked and this offended Republicans.  He vetoed a Civil Rights Act  in 1866, but it was over-rode.

The First Reconstruction Act in 1867 required an acceptance of the 14th Amendment and until then were to be governed by a Military governor.

The Second Reconstruction Act gave the Military Governors the authority to handle all elections including voter registration.  The Third Reconstruction Act gave the Military Governor the ability to remove officials from office.

Many blacks were elected to various state legislatures, but the southern whites found ways over time to eliminate most of them.  Mississippi in their 1890 constitution imposed a $2 poll tax and literacy tests.  Military Governments were sometimes re-imposed as it was found that when the rules were loosened abuses returned.

A black code developed in the southern states that made work contracts one sided against the former slaves, restricted use of guns and absolutely no inter racial marriages.  The Ku Klux Klan intimidated blacks including burning houses and lynchings.  The federal government at one time convicted 600 of their members and imprisoned  ring leaders.

The 1876 presidential election proved to be a turning point.  It was close and confusing and the results were taken up by the Electoral College.  Armed troops were still in Louisiana and South Carolina and by promising to remove them Rutherford B Hayes was declared president.

By 1878 blacks began migrating both north and west.  Sharecroppers were caught in a trap that required them to make a profit while paying exorbitant prices for tools.   Blacks were convicted and sent to prison unfairly where they were leased out to companies at bargain pricing. 

In 1883 the United States Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 with a 8 to 1 decision.  In 1890 Louisiana passed a Separate Car act that enforced segregation of railway cars and although contested it survived the Supreme Court of Louisiana and the U.S. Supreme Court.   This set many more segregation laws in the southern states.

The term Jim Crow came from a stage performance mocking blacks.  The underlying claim was the segregation was based on "separate but equal."  That was a farce as blacks were given a badge of inferiority that ensured much less money devoted to them.

The blacks in South Carolina proved they could govern with progressive legislations for both blacks and whites including free schooling.  An earlier blog,  "We Were Eight Years in Power"  recounts some of the Reconstruction events in South Carolina linking them to Obama's 8 years in power.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/12/we-were-eight-years-in-power.html  The idea of Reparations is brought up in this book.

Blacks of course made some progress forming their own associations including the NAACP.   Even some of the poor whites were progressive, but overwhelmingly the culture was oppressive towards blacks for more than a century.

If this book takes too long for you to read consider the link below that is an hour Youtube video, covering much of the same material with the author being interviewed for his tv production based on the Reconstruction tying it effectively to recent events.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5svdBw7J3o

Friday, June 14, 2019

My 60 year love affair with Basketball

The Raptors' improbable victory has opened up a lot of memories.  I say improbable only because like many fans I have lived through many disappointments.  What kept me going was that there were many wonderful memories.

Who are we kidding? We are enjoying a vicarious experience  The players came through for us and if we really understand the game we realize coaches, trainers and in the case of the Raptors the manager and president played critical roles.  But behind all that are us fans.  We drove interest when it didn't seem like a sure way to make money.  We have all been disappointed after being teased with the look of stardom from time to time.

My introduction to basketball came before the age of 10 from a Sunday school teacher, John Moffatt, son of the minister who married my parents and brother to another minister who helped bury my mother.  My guess is he loved basketball and thought a group social event would help turn us into good Christians.  Simcoe Street United Church had recently had an addition intended I guess for banquets and meetings, but also included basketball nets.  I don't remember having much awareness before being invited, but it was an enjoyable experience that opened my mind and heart.    No one would describe me as a good Christian, but I did become a basketball fan.

A few years later I entered King Street Public School for grades 7 and 8.  There wasn't much for basketball, but they did have nets on the school wall and very crude mobile nets.  To be honest I didn't play much, but knew several students who became good players.

Oshawa Central Collegiate really perked my interest.  They had three age level teams and they all seemed to win.  Mr McIlveen coached the senior team, but also took time to spend on the youngest team.  I never made any of the three teams, but watched almost all their games and not just the home games.  I walked to school with two players Larry Horne and Charlie Marlowe.   At 5' 7"  I was at a disadvantage but more critically by not having binocular vision which just means one of my eyes didn't function the same as my dominant eye.  Not aware of this lack until one of the tryouts, but in truth neither handicapped me enough to stop me playing and enjoying.

I did play intramural basketball, but more importantly spent a couple of hours almost every school day playing basketball after classes.  On Saturdays they had a league which included many top high school players--mediocre, but actually got one headline which highlighted the one game I scored the most points, but identified me as a defensive player.  More strong points included that I was faster and quicker than many and could out jump a lot of taller players.  While there I attended a referee's clinic and learned to appreciate the game from their perspective.

As I approached the end of grade 11 I was told my family was moving to Haliburton for my next school year.  As I was cut from the junior team the coach, Mr Barkowsky assured me I would do better in Haliburton.  Haliburton did turn out more satisfying.  For two years I was a first stringer and was usually assigned to cover the opposition best guard and was able to block shots and get rebounds against much taller players.  Our team was able to win a few games, but never advanced beyond the regular season.  The school had a rule that grade 13 students were not allowed to play on school teams, but fortunately for me they dropped that rule when I reached grade 13.  The local doctor's son came back (he had been at I think at a private school), Jim Best and he was also able to play as well.  I remember Andy Paul, Les Fotheringham and Jim Hunter, who later died in a hunting accident.  When my father asked someone if I was any good he was told I could jump like a kangaroo.  I was never a big scorer.  One personal memory was seeing that Mr Barkowsky coached one of our opposition teams and I was able to say hello.  More even than winning the occasional game or scoring a few points my most vivid memory was blocking the shot of an athletic player for another team.

At the University of Guelph I knew I was over my head.  I occasionally played intramural and lot of pickup.  Again my best memories involved blocking shots.  I watched all the home games coached by Garney Henley an active all star football player.  They did win a few games, but more often losing,
After I graduated they won a national championship and I was able to interview Garney Henley for a project.  Before that I actually met my wife because I wanted to watch Guelph play on tv and because the set didn't work drove to Guelph and got introduced to my future wife for a blind date.   Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/how-i-met-my-wife.html

After university and living in southern Ontario I had more access to watching the NBA on tv.  I became a tv hog annoying people when they wanted to watch a hockey game or non sports program.  I developed an attachment to the Chicago Bulls--well before Michael Jordan.  I was conscious of Norm Sloan who went on to coach the Utah Jazz.  One obsession was with a third string center name Dennis Awtrey.  He was not a big scorer or even rebounder, but was often assigned to cover the best  centre player on the opposition team and in his clumsy way he made life miserable.  I could identify with him.  Of course when Michael Jordan came the Bulls became even more popular for me.  I also enjoyed Scottie Pippin and later Toni Kukoc.  I remember watching Steve Kerr scoring a winning basket.

After going through my first job I had moved to the Hamilton area to do a job checking car insurance policies.  One day took me to Fort Erie just after a snow storm and on impulse decided to go to Buffalo so I could check out my first NBA game.  The Buffalo Braves were an expansion team, but after seeing a few other games and following them on tv and radio I got to love their players--my favorite was Randy Smith and later Bob McAdoo. 

I wrote a letter to Bill Ballard, son of Harold Ballard  who was serving time in jail.  Harold did not like basketball seeming to think it a sissy game, but his son was more open.  At this time they were contemplating getting involved with the NBA.  My letter was passed over to Ken Twigg and I ended up selling tickets when the Buffalo Braves decided to play part of their season at Maple Leaf Gardens.  At this time I was working for the Oakville Journal Record in their circulation department and had offered a Buffalo Braves ticket as a sales incentive.  When they did in fact start playing in Toronto I got the whole circulation department to have a sales promotion which went over well.  I was a little critical of the ad campaign and made one suggestion which they did use for in the big Toronto dailies.  I had already designed an ad for the Record.

One of the concerns I ran into aside from basketball being boring, sissy, strange, etc was that it was an American game.  This offended me, but at the time there were barely any Canadian professional players.  On impulse I decided to write a book on Canadian contributions to the game and gained quite an education.   I met several what to me were celebrities including Garney Henley, Bill Robinson, Jack Donohue, Ron Foxcroft, etc., etc.  I received letters from many people and treasure a response from Bill Bradley.  I traveled a bit with the help of a government grant including Montreal, Ottawa and Springfield, Massachusetts.  Another memory was being only one of three whites in a crowded gym of Filipinos cheering on their teams from Toronto and Montreal.

I had hoped the Canadian national team would at least win a medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympic medals, but the ball didn't bounce the right way.  I ended up dealing with two publishers, but the reality was they didn't have enough confidence there would be a market for it and I ended up giving up.  It did result in some articles in a recreation newsletter through Shopper's Drug Mart, a children's story and contributing to a master's thesis.  I learned a lot about basketball and publishing.  Two earlier blogs give more details of my "career" with basketball:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/02/my-basketball-projects-part-one.html
and  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/03/my-basketball-projects-part-two.html

My interest in basketball didn't wane too much, but I did have other interests including being a father to two children.  Finally the Raptors came to Toronto and my interest perked up.  I do remember their first draft choice, Damon Stoudamire was booed which just goes to show that fans are not as knowledgeable as they think.  I attended a few games with my son who now watches live games on tv in New Zealand (at very odd hours).  Vince Carter got a lot of attention and over the years a number of outstanding players have passed through to keep up interest even though there were a steady line of disappointments.  One got the feeling Americans didn't like us as most of the best players avoided Canada (this did in the Vancouver franchise) seeking out the American media

One promising note from just a few years ago was that  Masai Ujiri  had been offered a contract with the Raptors as general manager.  Ujiri had been raised in Nigeria and originally was steered towards soccer, but he became interested in basketball and his family supported him.  He played a bit in the U.S. collegiate system and professionally in Europe.  After finishing playing he moved back to Nigeria and got involved with youth programs.  At summer camps he made contacts with NBA executives and made an impression that led him to be an international scout for the Denver Nuggets.  From there in 2013 he was named NBA Executive of the year.   Obviously it takes a few years to assemble a team.  From there he came to Toronto with one of his first moves trading popular, but disappointing player Andrea Bargnani to New York.  Shortly after they obtained Demar DeRozen and Kyle Lowry and made the playoffs consistently.

After the end of the 2018 season he was involved in some very heavy decisions.  He fired the coach of the Year, Dwane Casey, although most would blame LeBron James for the short playoff run.  The most popular player who stated he wanted to stay in Toronto (not a common sentiment for many other players) DeMar DeRozan, but was the best bargaining tool.  In return for DeRozan and others they got Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and then later Marc Gasol (fora promising popular player, Jonas Valunciunas).  Fans were very upset until the season actually began. All three players became starters.  Kyle Lowry retained his critical starter role, but a backup player, Pascal Siakim, perhaps the league's most improved player stepped up or the fifth spot.  He is from Cameroon with his first language French and is always smiling and looks to be the future.

Researching Masai I learned one interesting fact that he criticized Donald Trump for his reference to "shithole countries."  Trump doesn't seem to realize there are people all over wanting to improve themselves and capable of contributing to America.  There is speculation about whether Trump would invite the Canadian NBA champions to the White House.  I hope they get a chance to reject him.

Unfortunately there is also speculation about the future of not only Kawhi, but also Masai who rumor has it, has been offered more money to work with the Washington Wizards in a town where his wife works.  But now I think the Raptors have helped establish basketball in Canada and I hope to watch Canadian teams and players do well.  I am very pleased that basketball has grown so much in the Canadian conscience and think it is a good thing for the whole country.