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 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 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:

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 basketball.

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 folowing 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 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 flyer 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:

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 (for another popular player).  Fans were very upset until the season actually began. All three players became starters.  Kyle Lowry retained his critical starter role, but a backup players, Pascal Siakim, perhaps the league's most improved player stepped up.  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.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Working with Pet retailers Part 2

Large amounts of money are required to compete in today's market.  You needed money to create a demand and then you needed money to make sure the demand was met.  People are creatures of habit and we learned without constant reminders people naturally will buy a more convenient pre mix.  We didn't have that kind of money or experience to compete.

Getting paid was also a concern as we dealt with some marginal businesses.

The two new products, shampoo and glass cleaner  were really value added products in that they were pre-mixed and as such commanded higher markups.  What I had become aware of was that a concentrate was almost always more economical and environmentally friendly, but that many people were sucked in by convenience and an illusionary lower price.  Big corporations understood this and adjusted their manufacturing and marketing strategies to maximize profit.  Our pre mixed products did generate more profit.

As happens various business opportunities were drying up and I began looking for products to add on.  I was approached by a pet store owner looking for someone to  help a friend sell a mysterious product (he was sold on).  It took awhile to get more details, but eventually I had lunch with the father, a retired engineer whose son had developed a lighter type of cat litter.  It was pointed out that many cat owners were old ladies not able to lift heavy bags.  The son was living in Mexico but spent a lot of time in Canada and we got along well.   The main ingredient was grown in part of Texas  weight  kitty litter--got foot in door with some established retailers  Softer litter was ideal for cats that had been declawed.  Another ingredient to create clumping was flax which the innovator discovered watching his mother eat cereal after recovering from cancer.

I also learned of a seasonal factor that would work to my advantage.  I had learned that retailers were more apt to order in the spring and fall, meaning sales were harder to come by in the summer and the winter.  For the summer sales I had figured out many pet owners took their pets to cottages and made timely calls to those areas.  Cat litter on the other hand had a bigger demand in the winter as outdoor cats spent more time indoors during cold weather and consequently with tighter insulation, houses could get more noticeably smelly.

All jobs offer education.  I loved this product, but soon learned of a serious marketing problem from one of my friendly pet retailer.   and one explained some poor marketing decisions--a good story but ran to the bottom of the package.  They also found that they needed more money for warehousing and manufacturing.  There were some problems at the Mexican end and the father financer decided that was enough.

There had been some changes to what had been my main source income which was selling lip balms mostly to radio stations.   I had sold customized lip balms mostly by phone, letter and email, but like everything else personal contact can make a difference and I was already out there.     A new supplier allowed me to sell in smaller batches allowing me to approach small businesses on my travels.  As my wife works for an orthodontist I learned that their procedures caused drying of the lips.  Lip balms would provide some relief and be a logical promotional tool.  I was able to make a few sales.  The manufacturer was impatient and felt I had misled him with how many sales I could generate.  I never felt I made unreasonable claims, but he cut off the relationship.

I learned about a dog/cat comb  at a trade show where a dog groomer substituted for the owner.  Somehow we got to talking and she explained there might be an opportunity.  I phoned Chicago and made a deal and essentially agreed to buy their product at close to manufacturer price and sell at wholesale and retail prices.  They also sold other categories which occasionally added to my profit.--turnover--keep records of what sold   The concept of turnover was not entirely new, but now I understood better that I had to take the profit from a sale and apply to the cost of that product.  It took about a year before I had covered the original expense of setting up, but then profit was generated.  For awhile got helpful advice and using the main product found success.  The owner retired and I found myself dealing with someone else who basically saw me as small potatoes and well advertised competition developed plus cheap chinese knockoffs

At a trade show for one of the wholesalers I met a salesman selling tooth brushes for dogs.  This struck me as very strange, but after going home I thought more of it and contacted the sales manager was that this wholesaler had mistakenly bought dozens of brushes when he thought he was ordering single units.  Nonetheless he paid the full price and the company felt obligated to attend the show.  He traveled all over North America and saw sense in having a Canadian rep.  Not owning a dog I never actually brushed a dog's teeth, but came to appreciate most people considered it too daunting.   I learned the procedure had important social benefits (like minimizing children getting bitten).  Learn more:
Another human insight gained by the experince:

My original contact was very supportive of my efforts, but realized at this stage demand for his product was pretty low, although growing.  He saw that I received commissions for any Canadian sales, even out of my calling area or online.  I tried to follow up these new contacts by phone.  I was successful in getting the product line into other wholesalers and chain stores, but it was slow moving.

My sales manager was grooming another man to take over after his retirement.  The head office was in Houston, Texas and this prompted me to learn about Skype.  I couldn't understand a written instructions, but was able to understand much better after demonstrated on Skype.  An odd application I learned was that the brush was not invented for dogs, but rather for people who had motions problems brushing their teeth.  This led to the discovery that they were effective for brushing over orthodontic braces.  I never had any success selling to orthodontists, but whenever I encountered retailer staff wearing braces I gave them an extra sample and it often results in a sale.

After making some progress I ran into a series of problems.  Chinese knockoffs moved into the market and undercut me.  With vet clinics I learned they had their own line and although inferior they had a vested interest in it.  The new sales manager was Mexican and ran into immigration problems and in fact one of my calls was to Mexico.  The company seemed to be making progress, but one was the final straw.  They had been trying to get a warehouse in Canada and finally succeeded, but the deal involved transferring sales to the warehouse owners. 

I was also approached several times by a man who wanted me to sell pet beds made in China.  I resisted this for quite awhile, but later was annoyed that I kept running into Chinese copycats.  He had had a heart attack and was advised to get a sales rep and after talking to some of my customers felt I should be approached. This was a sideline as he had a warehouse for his moving business  His 14 year old son was precocious and was taken advantage of.   Found he was being two timed by the Chinese head office who hired another sales company.  After his tragic death I was asked to carry on, but after awhile I felt I was being dealt with in bad faith.  One memorable thing was when I thought I was phoning Vancouver my call took me to China.

During this time I was able to use the agency resources to put out a monthly online newsletter.  Better than that I split it up to three versions--one for small businesses, pet retailers and vet clinics.  A lot of the material overlapped all three targets, but with appropriate articles heading and slanted to the audience.  The idea was  not only to hit the target, but to assume they were also consumers.  General information such as Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that might appeal to any business person.  I had contests when I could scare up a prize.  I did get some response, but came to realize I needed bigger numbers of readers just when the government tightened up rules to protect people from spammers.

Try as hard as I did, I couldn't justify my expenses with just one product line with little marketing support. The cleaner owner was very grateful that I seemed willing to drive all over and devote most of my time to his products, but it dawned on me that although I received expenses I was going way beyond that and needed to rationalize both my time and expenses.  In effect my ad agency was subsidizing him.  When I succeeded in making deals with other companies he became resentful, but in many ways I was elevated in the estimation of different retailers who felt if one line was either in conflict with established lines or of no interest to his clientele something else might work.  In many cases the once rejected lines became of more interest.  From my point of view there were more reasons to call on any individual retailer, even a long drive away.  Every one was a winner, but each product was marginal and under its own pressures.

Money became very tight and the owner became ever more resentful when I spread my efforts with other suppliers.  I ended up working for his son on a different line and was stunned by a very thoughtful gift from his wife at a surprise birthday party.  The product is still on the market, but you have to look.

I feel very fortunate to have had these experiences and like to believe I made some people happier.  Pet messes have been the subject of many quarrels. Pets have enhanced our lives and it is only fair we make their lives better.  I appreciate it is a tough world to take on by yourself.

Jobs not only provide the means to enjoy life, they also give us meaning and the chance to learn things.  Here are some blogs on my job history all of which illustrate my learning something personally meaningful: 

How a car was an asset in getting jobs, but also a distraction from other opportunties: 

If you missed Part 1 here it is:

Working with Pet Retailers Part 1

Life is strange how one thing leads to another, often unexpected adventure.  The names have been left out to protect the innocent and myself.  I didn't make a fortune, but did get quite an education.

I worked at an ad agency trying to expand a fundraising project for one of their clients.  Spotted an ad for an environmentally friendly cleaning product.   Thinking it might be suitable for fundraising I followed up and they seemed open.  My first encounter was a subject of another blog where I discussed how I got involved with a glass cleaner., but that also steered me towards working with pet retailers although a few more steps were involved.  You can read about that first encounter and how it led to learning about applications--starting on the fifth paragraph:

Selling the cleaner was not easy as I found out trying to demonstrate to a variety of prospects including household consumers and businesses with virtually no success.  One of the problems was that the product was a concentrate, but I was demonstrating it as a pre mix.  A lot of confusion not understood by me or the prospects.

I became a nosy questioner and after annoying the manager I was directed to someone with higher authority.  The voice sounded familiar and I soon learned that I had done volunteer work with my new advisor.  This upped my confidence and I soon learned that the family owned company did not like the approach used by what I learned had been a franchisee.  I soon worked directly and although a variety of prospects were approached I soon gravitated to pets.  At this stage I was able to direct the small amounts I generated to my ad agency.

We hooked up with wholesalers (I took part with two,  but only as an observer and later with delivery.   We soon realized the wholesaler was not going to sell the product by themselves so I became  a manufacturer's rep visiting lots of retailers further and further from home. 

These efforts (combined with other efforts at the ad agency) continued for quite awhile and then there was a  big surprise.  The company had sold franchise rights to a new person and I was introduced to and was encouraged to work for the new owners.  They had no objection as I worked on commission and down the line they agreed to pay my ad agency and cover part of my expenses. 

I ended up doing other commission work for them that actually carried on much longer.

Many approaches were tried with little success.  Somehow we got our breakthroughs with pet stores as the product seemed to work very well in cleaning up pet messes that are often the subject of family arguments.  One of the people involved was a pig farmer and he discovered that the product saved him money and time at cleaning up pig manure on slotted floors which encouraged us to approach feed stores, many of which also carried ped products.

After maybe half a year my new franchisee found out they had been cheated.   Promised exclusivity of Ontario learned that another person had been promised the same thing.  Not only that, they came to appreciate the parent company had financial problems and had been "robbing Peter to pay Paul.'

For awhile it looked like that was the end of this particular venture, but the franchisee was stubborn and resentful.  He found a better formula for the product, had a free lancer he used design some labels and his wife dreamed up a new catchy name.   I took their side as it was clear they were honest and I was very sold on the product.

Soon I was going back to all the people I had sold the first product to and persuading most of them to try the new product.  The bulk of our sales had gone through three particular wholesalers and this time I led the sales effort, but with the new owner.  Over the years the original pet wholesaler expanded and I kept driving further and further to support the effort, even going on overnight trips as much as a week.

All the time we were learning more product info.  One of the biggest was de-skunking which at first we were accused of just masking the smell.  I learned that skunks sprayed an oil which our product easily broke up.  Another similar test involved anal glands which none of us knew what they were, but the owner's vet had a problem with the owner's dog and tried our product which worked better than other solutions he had tried.  Another strange one was cleaning grouting on floors and I started noting which floors had grouting and making the odd sale.

I grew up with a father who had an aversion/phobia to cage birds so naturally I felt a bit uncomfortable around them.  Plus I couldn't see any significant application, however it turned out they could.  Birds were sensitive to cleaners some of which could actually kill them.  Another bonus was learning that birds are more social than previously thought

Back on the farming front (I did deal with a lot of farm feed suppliers) learned that our "cleaner" acted as a deterrent for pecking among chickens and other poultry.  Pecking is when one bird is identified as weak so that others can bully it (often to death) by pecking. 

One of the problems with making cold calls is getting past the gatekeeper who was usually instructed to limit interrupting the boss.  Often the first gatekeeper was the receptionist.  We developed a testimonial with a vet receptionist (actually she was met at a pet show).  She had found that she often got peed on by visiting dogs and out of desperation tried out product and found it more effective than what she had been trying.  I took this idea and introduced myself with saying "you are the first person to meet the pet owners"--usually a nod and "you are the first person to meet the pets" (another nod) and you are also the first person to get peed on"  Not always a big breakthrough, but often enough got her attention and she would be more receptive to what I had to say.

I enjoyed the driving, but also felt this was the most meaningful work I had ever done.  In the end I visited a lot of eastern Ontario, but never made it to Newfoundland.  I met retailers and vet technicians from even further and managed to phone even more.  There is a lot of beauty in Canada and I learned lots of local history and culture.

Attended many trade shows for the pet market, but also for health food.   Learned lots of ways to sell.  One strategy built upon a talent for memory which basically was with all my traveling I could relate to almost any location visitors came from-.   Started a lot of conversations that led to sales and expanding our network with the line "Where are you folks from? "

I followed up trade shows with phone calls pushing the idea of directing satisfied trade show buyer to local retailers.  I had run into some buyers who wouldn't buy at the show unless they were confident they could get a second purchase locally.  I had a list of retailers (most of whom I actually knew).  Then there were other people impressed with my demonstration, but reluctant to buy, who in many cases I was able to refer to a local retailer.  After a few shows the owner started to get upset with this.  I felt we had to support and encourage the retailers who weren't for the most part able to generate sales on their own.  The owner tended to measure trade show success with only the trade show sales while I started to see them as promoting the retailers.

Developed the concept of "champion."  These were usually retailers who loved the product and would actually do missionary work for us.  We used them as testimonials and referra

As our wholesaler dealt with mainly independent stores we needed a bigger wholesaler or chain storesu8.  A lot of franchisees of this bigger wholesaler were reluctant to buy outside the system, but a few felt we had a superior product and would try.   Every time I was able to get one of these stores on board I developed a list.  Since many of the franchisees knew one another their confidence in us was boosted.  I did this with a few other wholesalers and later moved to dog groomers who had their own wholesaler we eventually landed.

On a personal front my daughter decided she wanted to go to school in Halifax.  One concern was how to get her furniture there.  We had two wholesalers that operated in the Maritimes and realized their sales could be boosted with some contact.  The owner agreed to help pay some of my hotel expenses so that seemed a solution to a personal concern plus expand our sales effort.   I approached a few prospects that dealt with our Ontario based wholesalers as well as some new wholesale prospects.  Eventually I worked with a few new wholesalers and another of our Ontario wholesalers expanded east. 

One person who helped this project was my sister who lived in Montreal.  I made sales calls in Ontario then at 4 pm headed to her house.  The next day I would get up at about 3 am with the idea I needed that much time to reach English speaking prospects in New Brunswick.  After a few such trips my brother in law remarked that an Anglophone would do better in Quebec than a Francophone would do in Ontario.  My French was pretty pathetic, but back at the ad agency was an account executive fluent in Frenh and he helped work out a French introduction.  We had French labeling, but was surprised to learn that much of our competition came from familiar American English only products.

My first effort was on the way back from the Maritimes on the south shore opposite Quebec City.  It turned out to be  a difficult language problem that left me worn out and scared.  Later learned they had actually bought a big jug for their floors.  Not what I had emphasized in my pitch, but a good sale nonetheless.  I did try a vet near my sister's, but that was the extent of my francophone efforts on this trip.  I had spent time calling on some equestrian tack stores in Montreal because I knew there would not be a language problem having met the managers at Ontario trade shows.

Quebec visits tested my ability to face rejection, a common problem shared by me with all sales people.  Only one experience really hit me when rejected for not speaking poor French.

Always accumulating more product knowledge.  Learned the glass cleaner was very good on microscopes used by veterinarians.  Earlier had learned applications on golf courses that surprised me such as dealing with oil spills on grass.

A hardware store had been given a sample and found it was very good for cleaning his floors and took an order.  A month or two later he was upset that nobody asked for our product, but were asking for a nationally advertised product (that didn't compare very well).  It turned out that was his priority that people ask for a product.  I developed in my head the concept that people really see products as solutions to a problem and encountered some retailers who understood that concept.  They were not just selling products, but solutions to problems that all consumers have, but can't always understand.  Expertise was a strong selling point.  

In Mirami, New Brunswick learned about Degus which are similar to guinea pigs.  A new concept was that animals benefit from companions.  The owner suggests two females and two males when she sells the Degus.

The shampoo moved from dogs to cats to horses and to cows.  One important step along the way for me was for humans.  Our shampoo had moisturizers (to counteract the drying out of the cleaning agent) the moisturizer in it that resulted in soft skin and hair.  In the winter my skin got terribly dry and itchy so having a shower I applied it to my skin and later to my hair.  Very delighted with the result and found some of our retailers had similar experiences.   In the little town of Perth tried to sell a manager on our shampoo for horses and she challenged me that she only carried horse shampoos that were good for humans.  Phoned her a week or so later and she said she was very pleased but also delivered some bad news that her store was closing.  I told her the two pet retailers in town, but really gave up.  Not too much later I learned that the two local pet retailers had picked up their shampoo sales.  Still my personal favorite shampoo.

Although we seemed to be growing there appeared to be a limit.  Our competition had much more in marketing resources and trade knowledge and later learned they could handle government regulations more effectively.

Part 2 where the adventures expand:

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Dying of Whiteness

When some outsiders look at Americans who apparently vote against their economic self interest we can only think it is pathetic.  Dr Metzl feels they also
vote against their own health.  The big question is why?

One predominant reason might be racism and Dr Metzl thought that would be worth exploring.  His strategy to understand better was to concentrate on the states of Missouri, Tennessee and Kansas focusing on gun control, health care and education.

Missouri had relatively restricted gun rules, but since the 1990's the rules had been loosened and by 2014 there were state constitutional amendments to further entrenched rights.  By 2016 Missouri eliminated requirements for training, education, background checks needed to carry concealed  weapons.  By 2014 gun homicides exceeded motor vehicle deaths.

There are federal laws to  limit research on gun use, but using available resources he discovered he could learn useful stats with guns used for suicide.   One of my proudest achievements in university was an essay on suicide commemorating the origins of sociology by Emile Durkheim.  Dr Metzl also uses suicide statistics to analyze.

Dr Metzl took part in some suicide grief support groups while in Missouri.  None of the mostly white people felt guns were the problem even though they were the most common method.  Mental illness was the likely culprit in their opinion and the rest of us needed to watch for indications of depression.  Harvard Public Health research suggested that gun suicide represents "an irreversible solution to what is often a passing crisis."  From 2009 to 2015, non Hispanic white men accounted for nearly 80% of all gun suicides in the United States despite representing less than 35% of the population.

Guns are associated with (white) privilege.  After the Civil War the Ku klux Klan  took firearms from blacks.  Before 2000 most guns were cited for hunting, but by 2017 67% claimed the motivation for ownership was for protection.  The NRA has long been campaigning guns are needed for protection.  The irony is lost on many gun advocates that guns result in increased accidental and suicidal deaths.  Further protection is a bit illusionary.

For awhile the nation focused on the police shooting an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri.  As background to that tragedy it was learned that budget cuts for Ferguson necessitated that the police force play a role in revenue generation.  This resulted in less concern for protection while increasing hostility.

Dr Metzl took his studies of the effects of the Affordable Care Act to Tennessee where he now lives and works.   African Americans generally support the ACA as they recognize it would be helpful for everyone.  Dr Metzl learned that some whites opposed the ACA even if it would boost their own health as it would also help minorities or immigrants.  They were willing to jeopardize their own health.  Some resented the fiscal costs while neglecting the cost to their own health.

Others resented the mandate requiring those not buying insurance to pay a tax penalty.  The author points out that this provided herd protection in that the more people participating the less chance for many diseases to spread.

Southern states resisted hospital integration and resented the government forcing them to mix with blacks.  Statistics showed that Obamacare was less liked that the exact Affordable Care Act.  Many people felt that they should responsible for their own health care and that those who couldn't shouldn't be able to abuse a socialized system.  The unfairness of disease and accidents didn't strike many that they could also suffer.  Quoting the author,  "Costs... functioned as a metaphor for concerns about a system that gravely threatened the sense of individualism underpinning particular white notion of health."  As it is much of the medical expenses of Southerners would be covered by taxes of Northerners.

Dr Metzl moved his research over to Kansas to study how an extreme conservative government effected education.  Kansas at one time had an envied education reputation, but under Sam Brownback taxes were cut under the assumption that business would be attracted and make up the difference in revenue.   Over 200,000 had their income tax eliminated (allowing many to lower their taxes by claiming a business).  Individual had taxes reduced from 6.4% to 3.9%.  Businesses didn't start up or expand enough, so that budgets were cut.  In 2015 regressive cigarette taxes were increased and some deductions used by the poor were cut.

Budgets were cut including education.  Larger class sizes and at one point instruction days reduced.  Early childhood education was cut.  Sex education was another victim of budget cuts as well as for ideological factors.   These moves hurt everyone.  Booker T. Washington is quoted, "You can't hold a man down without staying down with him."  Drop out rates increased and graduation rates declined for all groups except for black females that stayed the same.

Kris Korbach, the Kansas secretary of state was anti-Muslim and practiced voter suppression.  He went onto to help the Trump administration for a brief while.

Malcom X is quoted, "Education is our passport to the future for tomorrow belongs only to those who prepare for it today." 

There are many factors that influence legislation.  The wealthy have always had more access to power, but realize in a democracy it is critical to appeal to the masses.  A key way of doing that has been through prejudice.  One theme is that blacks are the ones that whites need protection from.  From an earlier blog here is Lyndon Johnson, "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."

What to do about racism?  Contact seems essential, but is it enough?  Whites, no matter rich or poor  have cultivated a feeling of superiority towards blacks  It is also true that human interests overlap and hence we are always (at least most of us) are open to borrowing what we like when we can.  Some examples include jazz, Mexican food, Arabic numbers,  

That some Europeans came to love jazz (and later rock n roll) didn't instantly make blacks more acceptable, but it did put the toe in the door.  When Jackie Robinson broke a barrier in major league baseball he eventually opened up the door for others to follow as whites wanted to win.  It is true that jazz musicians and baseball players were considered exceptions, but gradually other blacks are respected for more that just their skills.

Anti discrimination laws and racial quotas can help, but they also risk resentment.   In addition to using "sticks" we need to find more ways to use "carrots" perhaps as awarding desirable behavior
and offering incentives for integration efforts.  A key platform is education, both to encourage more contact, but also in curriculum.  Too many of us are ignorant about the "other." even though we are all connected.

I highly recommend this book as this puny blog post only attempted to hi-lite a few points.  It helps explain why some people vote against their own economic and health interests and has his own set os suggestions.  You can also check out Dr Metzl's website for more insights,

Friday, May 31, 2019

I Know My First Name Is Steven

Not heard of this title before but picked it up at the local library as a filler.  It turned out to be a mini series released in 1989. Emotionally stirring that leaves one unsatisfied.  It suggests repercussions felt today although I suspect there is not a lot of awareness about it. The impact was such I wanted to think about it further and this is my effort.

Based on true events only makes it more upsetting.  In brief a young boy is kidnapped at the age of 7 and is able to escape back to home at age 14.  He had conflict with his parents before the kidnapping and difficult adjustments after his return.  Although the film has a heavy sexual element it is not explicit so you can really feel the pain without the distractions.  We have a very fuzzy understanding of what actually is happening, but it becomes clearer in the second half.

The kidnapper is a pedophile who decides he wants to have a son and picks a victim.  Steven is a loner whose parents are upset with him and in conflict with one another how to deal with him.  On the day of the kidnapping the father has threatened his son with a spanking and the pedophile somehow can identify that the boy is unhappy and a little afraid to go home.  Mr. Parnell, the pedophile does not use violence at all, but tells a story about being asked to take the boy away and offers presents.  Steven had not been told to not get into cars with strangers and has not been taught how to use a telephone.  These last two items have become a necessity for parents fearing a similar fate for their children.

While in captivity, Steven is mostly unhappy, trying to please Mr. Parnell who gives him a fair amount of freedom.  Changing schools a few times to avoid legal complications Mr. Parnell continues the story that his parents don't want him and it is his responsibility to take care of Steven.  A lie is told that the father died and the mother disappeared.  He had four siblings and both Mr. Parnell and a relative suggest that they were too poor to handle five children.

Steven at about age 14 is involved in the kidnapping of another 7 year old and realizes this young boy is about to go through a similar experience.  He decides to take the boy to the police in the hopes that at least the boy could be returned home.  The effort is botched and he ends up dealing with the police find out he has also been kidnapped and soon are able to return him to his parents.

That takes the first half of the mini series and we are now dealing with Steven and his parents and his siblings revolving around a difficult adjustment.  Steven is embarrassed and ashamed while his parents are guilt ridden, unable to deal with Steven's behaviour.

One aspect that bothered me was smoking.  (see  I have been annoyed that so many movies include smoking as a natural thing to do thereby reinforcing and encouraging young people to smoke.  In this movie Steven smokes as early as 9 years as a tool to deal with his dilemma.  Later he drinks, seeks sex and drives dangerously.  He even contemplates suicide and the viewer is made to feel his impulse.

He is teased by classmates and the court outcome is insulting.  Mr Parnell ends up getting a five year sentence (and in reality gets off early).  

After the events of the film, the real Steven Stayner married as a teenager fathered  2 children and goes onto die from a motorcycle accident at age 24.  His one brother was affected (or claims to have been) and murdered four women a few years later adding to the parents horror.

The parents are presented as loving, but conflicted.  The father seems a little unnecessarily harsh before the kidnapping, but afterwards feels very guilty.  He has trouble facing up to his son's sexual activity and for awhile cannot face him.  The mother goes from being lenient to harsh and to making an effort to understand him.

Steven feels guilt.  At one time he confesses he thought he should have resisted.  After the homophobic teasing of classmates he feels the need to have sex with a girl his brother helped set him up with.  Drinking, smoking and reckless driving are ways he copes with his stress.  One girl is sympathetic and he comes to care for her, but displays temper outbursts that threaten their relationship.  She gets pregnant and we are led to believe they get married.

It is infuriating to the viewer that institutions let him down.  He was absent not only for court time, but also he felt uncomfortable at the school.  He was told he had missed so many days that he was ineligible by California law to graduate even if he pulled up his marks.  He did not want to testify in open court, but was strongly urged to do so.  After the humiliation (in front of parents and his girl friend) the accused  Mr Parnell got an unexpectedly light sentence.  Later the law was changed and years later when Mr Parnell was charged again he was sentenced to over 20 years imprisonment.

I had thought too many parents were paranoid, driving their kids a few blocks to school and supervising most of their activities.  Such scary events may be rare, but children need to be prepared.

Movies with this impact are not accidents.  The cast and crew were of high quality to optimize the presentation.

Larry Elikaan, the director has mostly worked with tv series and movies.  "Knots Landing" and "Falcon Crest" were some examples.

The script had input from three individuals.  W. H. Eschols II did much of the research and had suggested the real life story.  Two years later he published a book about what really happened.  J. P. Miller mostly worked with tv films and had won a Primetime Emmy for "The People Next Door."  Also was involved with "Helter Skelter" and "Playhouse 90."   Cynthia Whitcomb was the third  who had a background in television.  As a team they were nominated for a Primetime Emmy award for this film.

The music was not intrusive, but composer David Shire put out an effective score.  He had won an Oscar for a song in the film "Norma Rae."  He was nominated for a Golden Globe with the Bee Gees for the score for "Saturday Night Live."  He was for a time married to Talia Shire who for me will be forever Rocky's girlfriend.

Eri cvan Haren Norman, the cinematographer had a successful television career.   He won a Primetime Emmy for "What the Deaf Man Heard." and a Daytime Emmy for "The Big Blue Marble."  Maybe better known for "Desperate Housewives" and "The Elizabeth Smart Story."

Two editors kept a long story with lots of potential complications to an effective 3 hours.  David Ramirez was an assistant editor with some prominent movies, "Cabaret" in 1972 and "The Blues Brothers" in 1980.  Mostly done television work including two Star Trek series.  Peter V White another television editor including "Parker Lewis can't Lose."

Corin Nemec, as the 14 year old Steve and the focus of the film had our sympathy as a confused, conflicted youth.  He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for this role.  He had started with "Webster" and went onto a number of tv films.  He was the lead for "Parker Lewis Can't Lose." Other series included "The Stand," "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Stargate SG-1."  He has gone onto some directing and writing as well as an executive producer.  Quote from Corin  "Art is about expressing the true nature of the human spirit in whatever way one wishes to express it. If it is honest, it is beautiful. If it is not honest, it is obvious."

Cindy Pckett, played the mother and got top billing.  The role called for her to make lots of adjustments trying to deal with her son's predicament.  Her father, Cecil Pickett was a drama teacher at high school and  the University of Houston with pupils that not included his daughter Cindy, but also Dennis and Randy Quaid.   She played Ferris Bueler's mother and ended up marrying the actor who played the father.  Most of her career has been with television including ongoing roles in "Call to Glory," "St Elsewhere," and Hyperion Bay."  Recently saw her in "TeAta."

John Ashton, played the father and had a demanding role adjusting to his son's dilemma.  He has won theatre award and done a stage tour in Europe.  Some movies he acted in include "Beverly Hills Cop," "Beverly Hills Cop II" and "Gone Baby Gone."  Mostly been in television movies and series including "Dallas."

Arliss Williams for some reason was not given screen credit, but played Mr. Ken Parnell, the pedophile, not a role many would want to be identified with.  He was effective, as a persuasive man conning and then abusing a child.

Minor roles were played by Bryan Cranston who later joined with Raymond Cruz in "Breaking Bad." The real Steven Stayner played a policeman in the background when his actor namesake was being taken back home.

Unless you like tear-jerkers you might not enjoy this movie, but I admit I love movies with impact and this one certainly leaves a long term impression. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Advertising is all about attention. Have I got yours?

Not only self righteous bloggers strive for your attention, but many others try to calculate how to extract whatever value might be accessible from your attention.  We all strive to get attention, but Tim Wu focuses on how advertising and resistance have evolved through various attention platforms, although the masses don't quite understand how they are being manipulated.

Tim Wu in the beginning and at the end  of "The Attention Seekers," offers a William James quote that is even more relevant today.  "When we reach the end of our days our life experiences will equal what we have paid attention whether by choice or default.  We are at risk without quite realizing it of living lives that are less our own than we imagine."

Understanding the brain is central.  We have survived because our brains have evolved.  We can receive something like 11 million bits of perceptions every second.  At the same time we have learned to ignore almost all of them.  Focus is the attention we pay to something we feel is important, or it can be a default habit in response to stimulus.  For an interesting perspective on focus check out

Newspapers were not read by everyone.  They tended to be supported by political factions or by vanity.  In New York the established papers charged 6¢ each with a circulation around 2,000.  Benjamin Day, a printer had an idea--he would charge 1¢ which was below his cost, but would use the anticipated increased circulation as a platform for merchants to promote themselves.  At first his idea did poorly as he sold only 300 copies in September of 1833.  To boost readership he learned that the most interesting stories came from covering the courts.  One issue for readers was runaway slaves.  His paper the New York Sun had reached a daily readership of over 5,000, but soon attracted copycats and soon competition was driven by sensationalism.  Advertising revenue became more important than distribution revenue.

In the 1860's in Paris, printers using British technology developed posters which could be produced in significant numbers to spread around the city.  They used attractive female models, colour and the appearance of motion to attract attention.  During World War I General Kitchener directed recruiting efforts to include posters.  Early ancestor to billboards.  There were from the beginning people who protested that posters took away from enjoyment of walking (and later driving) by them.  Some felt they were unaesthetic while others were conscious of being manipulated and in general having their attention diverted without consent. Many jurisdictions have placed restrictions on billboards, but they fight against the need to generate revenue that comes when taxes are cut. 

Walter Lippmann noted the concept of manufactured consent with regard to military recruiting efforts with posters, martial parades.  Celebrities were found to manipulate enlistments.

Another concept started to be articulated.  Demand engineering where the author uses the example of halitosis was brought  up as socially embarrassing, but with a cure from Listerine.

An interesting example coming from Lucky Strike cigarettes being endorsed by opera singers and doctors.  Continuing with Lucky Strike, Edward Bernays was upset to learn that his wife had been asked not to smoke in a restaurant, supposedly as it was considered effeminate.  In 1929 he arranged to have a parade of attractive women smoking Lucky Strikes which were touted as torches of freedom.  In an effort to increase women smoking they pointed out that smoking is a diet aid.  From the 1920's to the 1930's smoking among women had tripled.

In 1929 advertising had reached 3% of gross domestic product.  That year Stuart Chase and Frederick Schlink wrote a book criticizing advertising as distorting the economy.  Consumer Research was founded as a means of combating misleading advertising.  A lot of discussion defending advertising.  Legislation was proposed to curb advertising abuses, but lobbyists succeeded in watering it down.

Surprisingly radio was not thought of as an advertising medium at first.  Radio had developed the concept of programming to draw listeners.  A very key program was "Amos n Andy" which today would be considered racist, but drew large numbers of families.  Its success was attributed to its use of plots.  William Paley was given the CBS radio network by his wealthy father.  Paley got the idea to offer the program to affiliate stations for free in exchange for carrying ads.  Once the idea caught on it was easy to expand the network.  

Advertisers gained a tool during the radio era in 1936.  Robert Elder produced an audimeter to measure radio listeners.  Arthur Charles Nielsen developed a black box and started churning out Nielsen Reports for radio in 1947.

One nation that used radio most effectively was Germany under the Nazi regime.  Radio penetration in Germany matched that of the United States and the United Kingdom.  Hitler's unique talent was as a dynamic speaker.  In crowded rooms he was able to to rouse large numbers of people, but the Nazis soon realized radio would allow a wider audience.  The Nazis instituted what we might call radio police to ensure that Germans were listening to Hitler's speeches.

Television was actually available for the 1936 Olympics, but for awhile trailed radio and cinema for attention.  In 1952 television had reached only 9% of American houses, but by 1956 had rocketed to 72%.  A big boost came from Elvis Presley who on September 9, 1956 reached 82.6% of all tv watchers.  "I Love Lucy" became the most popular regular show later topped by "The 64,000 Question."  There were for most owners only 3 networks to choose from.  Television shows evolved from a single sponsor to multi commercials.  For many people commercials were a time to visit their refrigerator or bath room or change channels.  Script writers developed tricks to maintain interest through the commercials.  The adoption of remote controls allowed easier channel switching or muting.

1957 was the year Vance Packard's book, "The Hidden Persuaders" came out and my father actually bought a copy and encouraged me to read it.  Vance wrote a series of consumer oriented books amongst other things pointing out how advertising misled us and changed our lives.  One of the scandals revealed was with "The $64,000 Question" when it was learned that the sponsors had manipulated the questions and contestants to maximize dramatic attention.

Eventually more television stations were developed catering to different identified niche audiences.  Sports was competitive as there were increasing number of sports which unlike most programs had a degree of unpredictability.  Nowadays many people have access to over 500 channels.  This fragmented the market with advertisers trying to pin down their most suitable targets and also dealing with channel surfing.  Shorter ads became more common and also more entertaining.   Buying different media was dependent on identifying targets and matching with individual media demographics.

One strategy was product placement.  Steven Spielberg helped finance movies with product placement and once famously, after being rejected by M and M turned Reese's Pieces into a major product.

The Super Bowl is one event that attracts a national audience and has become a showcase for commercials.  Although I am not a football fan I was impressed a few decades ago to buy a new Gillette razor and have stuck with the new versions ever since.

A new attention-getter was email.  It was developed by accident as some one added a message to an invoice as I recall.  There is an urgency to checking email and people have to use it for relatively trivial matters and the process of going back and forth with messages can be very distracting.  It has become a sales tool, but has also spurred spamming which people have become very annoyed about and have developed blocking programs.  First eblast was sent on May of 1978.  I have actually sold eblasts and they did get results.

The Inter net became another screen that has evolved giving users more options and more distractions.  Larry Page and Sergey Brin when they developed the most efficient search engine frowned on advertising, but were losing money.  They realized that many requests for information were in fact  searching for buying opportunities.  They understood that ads slowed down search functions, but they developed improvements.  As they could measure clicks on any search they developed ways of offering flexible ad rates that helped advertisers find more realistic targets.  The whole inter-net is able to determine the interests of anyone using it.  This leads to pop up ads which in turn can be suppressed.  An alternative has developed called duckduckgo which claims no records will be kept on what a user clicks on.

Facebook was a social network not focusing on dating but encouraging family and friends connections.  They are really an information gathering machine that can offer advertisers cost effective targeting.  Instagram offered better resolution for photos and brought selfies into being.  Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion and have found it a wise investment.

Blogging was another activity spawned by the internet and was very popular at one time, but has become the domain of professionals.  Popular blogs can attract advertising revenue.

Canadians were proud that Research in Motion was the first to develop what is now known as a smart phone.  The Blackberry made it all the way to the White House.  It not only allowed emailing, but also access to the inter-net.  Making the inter-net mobile and with more and more options becoming common has induced more than a generation of users to develop bent necks.   Research in Motion has since been surpassed by larger companies like Apple, Google, Nokia.

Smart phones, computers and even televisions developed abilities to block ads presenting more challenges to advertisers.

Another example of resistance to commercials came from Netflix.  At first they were known for mailing DVDs at cheaper costs, but evolved into down-streaming tv. shows.  Instead of getting free tv with commercials you subscribe for tv programs and movies., commercial free.  A new habit, bingeing became common.

Tim Cook defending Apple used some words in common use,  "When an online service is free you're not the customer.  You are the product."

Times are constantly changing.  A book that brought this home was "The Content Trap"  Learn more.

I have spent most of my adult life somehow involved with advertising and selling stuff.  I have been told and believe that our economy for good or bad is based on selling "stuff."  People buy things they never thought of much before marketing research,  persuasion and pressure were applied.  Much is junk or unnecessary, but some  purchases really do add to enjoyment and survival and provide jobs.  We are all selling something and can learn to be better at selling worthy ideas.  Check out Daniel Pink with

Monday, May 20, 2019


Bollywood  provides some of my favorite movies.  Here are three different, but good ones. Their goodness is not accidental as the cast and crews bring a lot of experience to the projects.

"Gully Boy" offers a view into the rap world in India.  Rap is of interest to the younger crowd, but that means us older folks (in my case boomer) should be aware.  Naturally you hear a lot of rap music, but in Hindi.  The internal rhymes don't deliver the clever word play you might be hoping for except through subtitles.  The movie tries to convey feeling for the local atmosphere.  There is poverty, but also ambition. and not just for rap fame.  We see lower middle class people that are pointed towards medical careers.  Muslims are in a minority and although better off than in many Muslim majority nations still feel some grievances.  One of the characters is stigmatized as using young children to distribute drugs, but we learn they would otherwise starve.  In the end obstacles are mostly overcome and stardom arrives.

The cast is very good.  Ranveer Singh is believeable as a 22 year old rap singer.   Best seen in "Band Baaja Baaraat" "Lootera," and "Dil Dhadakne Do."  Alia  Bhatt adds another character to her long list of successes such as  "Highway," "2 States," "Dear Zindagi" and "Raaz."  Siddhart Chaturvedi is in his first feature film.  He started to follow in his father's footsteps as a chartered accountant, but won a talent contest which led to television series where he increased his popularity. In truth he matched Ranveer and is likely to develop into an equal star.  Kalki Koechliln has a relatively small role, but as usual she is impactful.

The brother-sister team of Zoya and Farhan Akhtar were producers, while Zoya directed and wrote.  In a previous wonderful movie, "Zindagi na Milegi Dobara" they again both produced, while Zoya wrote the script and directed, but this time Farhan played a leading role.   With "Dil Dhadakne Do" Zoya was director and writer while Farhan wrote dialogue, produced and acted.  More on Farhan,

Co-written by long time friend Reema Kagti.   Jay Oza  handled the cinematography;  Nitin Baid, was the editor and had previously edited" Raazi" one of the best films last year.i

"Badla" was based on a Spanish movie, written and directed by Oriel Paulo, "The Invisible Guest" with an interesting difference.  In the Spanish version the witness preparation lawyer was a woman while the accused murderer was a man.   Sujoy Ghosh, the man behind Kahanni adapted the script.  He wrote the script and directed "Kahaani" with one of the best twists ever.

It is set in Glasgow and layered with different versions of the same events as we try to find the truth.  Hint they both guard the truth carefully.  A brilliant woman has been accused of murdering her lover and was in a locked room with no apparent exits

Amitabh Bachchan and  Tapsee Pannu- play the two main characters. Both performed in "Pink," one of the best movies to deal with sexual consent.  Worth learning about  

Another important character was played by Amitra Singh who I had seen in a few other movies, but not researched.  She was married to a younger man, Saif Ali Khan and had 2 children with him, boyh of which are starting to act in films.  Considered very attractive she was able to be the  leading lady to both Dharmamendra and later to his son Sunny Deol. These days she mostly plays mothers as in this film.  She was a very effective mother in "2 States."

Gauri Khan  was the producer and co-owner with her husband Shah Rukh Khan of Red Chillies Entertainment that was one of the production companies for this film.  As many of you may know Shah Rukh Khan is my favorite actor

Avik Mukhopadhyay did the cinematography in Glasgow and the Scottish countryside.  He has also done "Pink," and another I hope to see soon, "October."  Not heavy Bollywood musical, but with good background music from Clinton Cerejo, Anu Malik and Anupam Roy.  Editing done by Monisha R Baldawa who had done "Mom," and "Neerja."

"Badhaai Ho"continues a string of hits for Ayushmann Khurrana with an excellent supporting cast.  An older couple (in their 50's) become pregnant which is embarassing for sons.  The girl friend of th oldest son is very accepting, but her mother becomes upset to the point of disrupting her daughter's relationship.  There are lots of laughs before everyone not only accepts the situation but celebrates it.  It is common enough that young people are unconscious that their parents are still sexual beings.

Ayushman has chosen a number of socially relevant topics.  Perhaps most famous for his debut role in "Vicky Donor" about a sperm donor who is ashamed of how he makes money.  Read more about his career and some other socially different roles includes a link to a single film blog: 

Sanya Mahotra plays the girlfriend.  Her first movie was "Dangal" where she played a female wrestler.  Looking forward to her appearance with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in"Photograph."

Several members of the supporting cast won awards: Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao and Surekha Sikri.  Neena and Gajraj won an award as Extraordinary Couple of the Year.

 Directed by Amit Ravinernath Sharma who also was one of the producers.  Akshat Gildial was the writer who won an award for dialogue.   This film was nominated for best film on several award panels.

As with most of my movie blogs I have bolded the films I have actually seen and have filtered down to only include movies I recommend--most of them very highly.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


There is a concerted effort to paint Iran as the bad guy who might have to be taught a lesson.  Iran is far from perfect, but are they really the bad guy?

Much is made of their support for groups that are labeled terrorist.  Yes, that can certainly endanger some of our friends.  On the other hand it seems they are protecting fellow Shiites where they have been under attack in Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere much like Americans profess alarm over Christians being besieged.  Yes, Teheran uses very scary rhetoric, but has anybody listened to Mr Trump?  Has much notice been given to the ever increasing restrictions on the Palestinians which many consider criminal?

A huge mistake was when Trump decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.  He claimed it didn't go far enough and he would force them to bend to his will.  We all want this to be a nuclear free world where everybody co-operates but in fact there is too much distrust.  Trump treats North Korea with more care, perhaps because he has been made aware they have nuclear weapons.  Libya decided to demolish their nuclear weapons, but that didn't protect Moamar Gaddafi.  Do Americans pay attention to history?

My core contention is that the Iran nuclear agreement not only gave some temporary relief from nuclear fears, but also was an opportunity to build trust that would allow other western concerns to be dealt with.  No matter what agreement the Americans can force upon the Iranians do they really expect others to trust them now?

In 1953 the Iranians had a democratically elected leader who was trying to follow the example of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Americans to share oil revenue.  The British resisted and requested help from the U.S.  After a successful coup, Mohammed was replaced by the Shah.  To consolidate his power he sought help from the C.I.A. to set up SAVAK, a secret police service.  One of the trainers was Norman Schwarzkopf ,later famous for the Iraq invasion.  They also involved the Israeli MOSSAD.  The purpose was to track and control enemies of the Pahlavi family.  The Americans left and SAVAK took a turn for more brutality including torture, executions, censorship.  The first director was repelled, eventually becoming a dissident and was assassinated in such a way to appear an accident.  Agents spied on Iranian citizens to uncover dissidents and as a by product promote distrust amongst neighbors.

With the election of Jimmy Carter the Iranians were coerced into alleviating torture and other abuses of power.  Ironically when the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979, Carter also felt an obligation to support the Shah under siege.  This stirred resentment in Iran and led to the hostage crisis that helped undo Carter's re-election.  A few other ironies--during an oil boycott it was Carter who adopted a conservation strategy to make Americans less dependent on Mid-East oil.  This was ridiculed by Republicans who went onto ridicule climate change.  Another irony provided by the Republicans is that they spun an arms deal with the supposed enemy Iranians to finance an insurrection in Nicaragua.

The Iranian Revolution was sparked by civilian discontent.  As is often the case the people rallied behind fundamentalist clergy who in the end took control.  Similarly the Poles rebelled against the Soviets using the Catholic Church as a tool.  In another blog about corruption it was pointed out that when citizens have little room to protest they support fundamentalists.  see

After the Iranian Revolution Iraq thought it would take advantage of confusion in Iran to invade it starting in 1980.  Americans, concerned about the prospect of a prolonged war supported Saddam Hussein including providing expertise on chemical weapons that not only killed an estimated 100,000 Iranians but were also used on Kurdish civilians.  Iran was able to quickly repel the invaders, but the conflict dragged on until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire accepted by Iran in 1988.

In 1988 an Iranian passenger airline was shot done in Iranian territory by an American missile.  Americans claimed they mistook it for a military fighter.    All 290 people on board died. Ronald Reagan expressed regret in a diplomatic note.  United States did not admit legal liability or offer a formal apology but did agree to a financial settlement of $61.8 million.

After 9/11 the Bush administration labeled Iran as part of an "axis of evil," although they had provided some intelligence for the crisis.  I have to admit that phrase came from David Frum, a Canadian conservative writer who I have come to like a bit.

There was some concern that Iran would develop nuclear weapons.  They were of course pictured supporting terrorists, threatening Israel and repressive.   Obama judged the priority to be avoiding nuclear weapon proliferation in the Mid East.  Iran had been under an embargo for decades and wanted relief.  Using the talents of John Kerry and co-operation with the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and China an agreement was hammered out that restricted Iran's nuclear program and opened up relations a bit.  Many Americans were upset that the United States authorized a huge payment to Iran, overlooking the fact that it was money+interest that had been sequestered after the Iranian Revolution.  Monitoring adherence was part of the agreement and Iran was careful to keep their part of the deal.

I am not privy to intelligence that United States might possess and apparently neither are any other governments.  Iran is under provocation and there are political and social factions that are already quite upset with the Americans.  As the provocations step up and attitudes harden an accidental trigger could initiate a Mid-East war.  It is very likely to be larger than the Iraq War was and is also likely to be divisive among allies and citizens when the world should be prioritizing climate change and other global concerns.

It is not hard to speculate about motives.

At this particular moment Trump appears to be fishing for diversions.  The legal attack and perhaps even more the political attack appear to be making progress.  Another motivation might be to satisfy Saudi Arabia and Israel.  In the case of Israel they have some legitimate fears, although considering they already have nuclear weapons might be a little exaggerated for domestic politics.  Americans are perhaps too beholden to Israel who is making efforts to totally disenfranchise Palestinians.  Trump had some generous donations predicated on supporting Israeli goals.  In the case of Saudi Arabia Trump seems to have formed a relationship, one might say a business relationship. 

The agreement should have been a building block.  United States and Israel could relieve tension over time.  Like Ronald Reagan once said "Trust but verify." That philosophy had a chance until Trump butted in, like he has in so many other ways.

Some other blogs that might be relevant:

earlier thoughts on the agreement 

hopes for an agreement

if you enjoy movies, you might appreciate there are dissidents in Iran and there is also artistry. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019


China is still a mystery to many of us, however a fascinating one.  Michael Pillsbury recounts his own involvement with China which pre-dates the famous Nixon trip to meet Mao Zedong.  In fact he played a small role for that trip, but now looking back almost fifty years of contact feels America was deceived.

He depicts China as deceptive, cheating foes and determined to be number one in the world.  His arguments are convincing, even more so in the years after publication.

China felt humiliation at the hands of Britain, America and Japan, but had a long range plan to reassert what they feel is their rightful place in the world.  After the 1949 Revolution China declaring itself a Communist nation and realized Russia was predominant in their sphere.  They were not without some fear over Soviet intentions.  America was seen as an enemy for many reasons (Taiwan for one example) but saw America as a counterpoint to Russia.  America also saw China as a counterpoint to Russia.  

Humiliation is I believe the core problem.  Not dealt with as thoroughly it deserved.  The Chinese had the oldest continuing tradition of civilization.  Opium forced on them because British wanted much from China, but China did not see enough they wanted to trade for.

One thing not mentioned in the text was that Pierre Trudeau had made overtures to China beforehand. It seems logical that a connection was made more acceptable by Canadian moves or even concern that Canada was getting a trade advantage denied to American farmers and businesses. 

China assessed that they could be temporary friends with U.S. and lull Americans into complacency.  Both sides aware of some sensitivity of the other.  The Chinese agreed to not make an issue of Taiwan and the Americans gave defensive reassurances regarding Russian aggression and even supplied information regarding Indian troop movements towards Pakistan who was being given support by China.  Each side thought they could use a new partner to deal with Russia.

Decades of Republican and Democratic administrations felt it was in their interest to help prop up China so they would join democracy and capitalism in a western sense.  Those in charge of China had a different agenda.  Develop trade, steal information, build up their strength without alarming the Americans.

It became clear after awhile that they had a few sensitive concerns.  The Dalai Lama was universally admired (very much personally), but represented a rebellious part of China.  Taiwan was considered an integral part of China, but eventually they developed a relationship, but one where China thought they could win Taiwan from the inside.

They promised to loosen up their economy and adopt western practices.   Not quite what happened as the state owned almost half of the businesses and were subsidized. Part of their strategy was to be non threatening and to grow their strength by deception and theft. 

The author gives an example of China's power with a popular American movie, "Gravity."  I saw it and am reminded of some components that seemed innocent at the time.  Sandra Bulloch was endangered because Russians had exploded one of their satellites which was causing debris and shock waves.  Later she was saved as she gained access to a Chinese space station.  The author points out that Russia has never shot down one of their satellites, but China without warning has done so (to test their anti-satellite capability) plus that Chinese space stations are not compatible with American technology.  These facts were obviously known to the producers, but they likely did not want to jeopardize the huge Chinese movie market.  

The book was copyrighted in 2015.  Have we learned much since then?  Today I heard commentators talk about the future dominance of G5 technology which is being led by China.  Read in a New York Times supplement that Chinese are using face recognition technology to track Uighars who they consider dangerous.  China in the past few years has stirred up tension by their actions in the China Sea where other nations (Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and Taiwan) have claims.  There is still demands to ostracize the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan freedom efforts.  Trump has talked very tough on China, but seems willing to have his family do business with Chinese businesses.  Hauwei with Canada forced to detain Chinese CEO by orders of the Trump administration.   China has made friends in Africa where they have identified needed resources and prospective friends.  The Chinese in general are making efforts to build their strength.  They still seem to feel they can conquer economically, but are gradually building up their military strength wasting less resources than Americans.

My own experiences with Chinese were mostly dealing with pet products.  One small company was offered a big sale if we would share the formula.  Another company that recruited me for pet beds and furniture had promised my boss exclusivity, but in the field I learned of a competitor. selling the same line.  When the Canadian owner unfortunately died I dealt directly with the Chinese manager for a brief time, but I think he figured out I didn't have the resources he wanted.  Also with still another company they learned to compete economically they had to accept Chinese manufacturing.  None of these deals worked to my advantage.

What should we do?  The first step might be to improve our understanding of China.  This can involve more intense intelligence efforts, but also academic study and personal contact.  Can we hope that they will change their views and join us as true partners or not?

Contact is important.  Most Chinese citizens know only what the government wants them to know about.  Some approved citizensare allowed to be tourists while many others have studied at universities in America and other western countries.

America beat off Russia during the Cold War with bi-partisan support. We need to support dissidents and demand release of political prisoners.  They need to know our relations hinge at least in part of human rights.  We need to not bend when we are requested to participate

Strengthen relations with Asian countries in particular, but also the rest of democratic countries.  The Pan Pacific Agreement would have been important to maintain economic alternatives to Chinese.  Taiwan is awkward as is the Dalai Lama .  U.S. forces on Okinawa--Japanese constitution re self defense  South Korea   North Korea can be expected to line up wth China

We have to set a better example recognizing that Chinese propaganda can find and distort aspects of our culture.  Credibility can only be manufactured so far.

The Chinese are oncerned over inflaming own population and now Uigar Muslims.  There are still protesters who are not always silent.     Terrorists are a minor concern, but one they share with the rest of the world.  

A good start is to read Michael Pillsbury's book and visit his website  He is described as a Chinese hawk and an advisor to Donald Trump, nonetheless he has a viewpoint that is well worth knowing.  His history with the Chinese is very instructive as he describes how he and the governments of both parties were deceived.