Thursday, April 18, 2019

What Now?

The Mueller Report, redacted as it is, is pretty damning.  The media, many activists and the Democrats will certainly kick up a fuss.  The next move is really up to the Republicans.  They can fight being pushed out with legalities and using their control of the Senate and Presidency and now even the Supreme Court.  But eventually they will reckon against the 2020 election.

That must give many pause for reflection.  The Mueller report is only a part of what crimes and misdemeanors are yet to come.  Not only is Trump's past full of legal and public relations problems, but going back to the CIA/FBI revelations to key Congressional members there is more cause for concern.  Mitch McConnell threatened the Obama administration that he would accuse them of meddling in an election, thus creating a clear path aided by the Russians.  Now we learn the Kentucky Senator and Majority leader also had some dealings with the Russians.

Would the public overlook all this Russian inter actions and Trump's obvious attempts at obstruction?  Many would forgive Trump for various reasons.  I think much of the 1% are very grateful for their tax rebates plus loosening up constricting regulations.  Others are pleased at all the rhetoric and action against minorities.

Many were discouraged for their job prospects and lapped up many distortions against Hillary Clinton.  A few may be willing to examine their perceptions.  Others may realize that many policies were not in their interests.

Minorities are not the problem for job prospects.  Really it boils down to the greed of those with power and money.  They are looking for cheaper alternatives and finding them with automation (and artificial intelligence) and shifting increasingly job descriptions to low labour costs, less regulation overseas markets.  There are ways of dealing with these problems, but they aren't given much of a platform.  Although a bit outdated here is a blog from 2014 that illustrates the job future: http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/08/rise-of-robots.html

The tax cut was really engineered by donations from the wealthy.  And although a token amount was given to encourage low income voters the wealthy supporters gained a bigger hunk of available wealth.  Some have invested in creating jobs and of course extra money being spent creates jobs.  However huge chunks of money were mainly used to consolidate wealth.  On the other side the government will be dealing with deficits which eventually all tax payers will suffer for.  But at the same time programs that benefit lower income people will be curtailed as the wealthy see them as harmful to their interests.  The many inter connections will increase inequality.

Trump has gone against the majority in many ways although admittedly his base likes much of his efforts and/or find him entertaining.  He has offended many allies and upset peace initiatives.  Meddling in the Mid East endangers us all.  Some of it was just to please his base, but some was for selfish unfathomable reasons.  The Iran Nuclear deal did not suit his allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia, but was critical. for wold peace  He took the side of Israel regarding Iran plus Palestine and also of the Saudi Arabians on Yemen.  Another group of voters will be threatened by these actions.

He has gone against American traditions regarding Russia.  Although no collusion  has been legally declared more Americans will wonder what the connection must be between Russian election aid and Trump's many favorable words and actions.

On the social front besides rhetoric and actions against visible minorities he also supported anti-LGBT efforts.  A touchy issue that is very key for many voters is abortion.  Most people are repulsed by abortion, but realized that effective ways to diminish it include sex education and access to contraception.  Some realize that it is difficult to judge women and their families when they find themselves in an unwelcome pregnancy--rape, incest, health issues, economic hardship are some factors. Sex is very hard to control and in a misogynous and sexually obsessive society, men are able to avoid responsibility.   Society seems to be evolving in their acceptance of new morality.

All of this must make the upcoming election frightful for many Republicans.  Even those in what have been considered safe seats  have to be worried how much power they will have if their Republican colleagues are not able to win.  If they refuse to take any responsibility how will their voters react?  They are already sliding.

Much of party actions are coordinated, but they have to realize real power  comes from being part of majority with control of Congress, the president and judicial.  If they punish the "bad apples" and show respect for bi partisan efforts inevitably some people will forgive them.  Impeachment is risky for both sides and at this stage unlikely to happen.  Renominating Donald Trump should also be a risky choice for the Republicans.  An association with Donald Trump could drag down many Republicans. 

Much of this mess will carry on.  The Republicans (giving a lot of credit to Mitch McConnell) managed to avoid a Democratic Supreme Court choice replace a conservative judge and then go on to add two more of their choices.  At the lower levels of the judiciary Republicans have been very active in assuring a conservative bent for at least another generation.  The electoral college will continue to distort the popular vote and states still have leeway to gerrymander.  (Dark) money will still be effective at subverting votes.

It may be a few years before the U.S. is back on track.  They have to earn trust from their allies and respect from others.  They need to tackle problems like climate change, future of jobs, inequality and campaign finance.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Ricardo Trogi Triology

Not all of us are able to put our autobiography in film format.  Most of us don't have the insights and talent to be as interesting a view as Ricardo Trogi.  Like many of us there are multiple factors in explaining how we reached our present status in life.

My interest in his story started by accident noticing a title "1991" (2018)  Sure enough the author wanted to remember a key year in his life.   He ended up in Perugia, Italy although his Italian linguistic skills were limited.  He presented more than one version of what really happened and most of us could identify one version as wishful thinking.  Kept me laughing with many human foibles exposed.


Going back to his earlier background  "1981" (2009) we see him as an 11 years old who had just moved to new school and is anxious to make friends.   He hooks up with 3 other boys and it turns out they all lied to make an impression  The foursome all exhibit, sexual curiosity, all try to manipulate parents and status conscious.  Ricardo is spoiled, but nagged by his parents.  This film contrasts a fantasy world with reality.  Going back to our youths most of us can sympathize with yearnings that sooner or later run up against harsher reality.  Ricardo's father was Italian married to a French Canadian was a tiny bit outsider which was displayed by the constant misprounciation of his last name.  There was also an assumption that he would be able to speak Italilan, but he couldn't.

The middle film "1987" (2014)  brings our subject to 17 years old with three friends.  In a fantasy Ricardo is shown talking to legislators complaining that he was being asked to make career choices at 17, while unable to legally drink alcohol until 18.  The four friends were intent upon sneaking into bars, but were mostly unsuccessful.   Sex is an obsession and one outlet is masturbation.  Jealous rears up strongly when driving a girl friend to the prom felt guilty enough to confess she has "frenched" with a college student at a bar.  Our hero has a hard dealing with this and it is not really resolved until the end of the film.  At one point determined to overcome his virgin status he takes out a girl with a reputation.  However it turns out she really wasn't a slut.  The four friends talk to each other about girl problems and try to help out, but not always successful.

In the meantime the four are involved stealing car radios.  His friends suggest that as an Italian he was the most natural. Finally running from the police and inevitably caught and identified.  To get some leverage he identifies a friend who had been seen with his girl friend.   Near the end he is seen cycling from Ste Foy towards Trois Rivieres over 100 kilmetres away as his girl friend has confessed she loves him and wants to lose her virginity.  As the movie ends we learn the outcome of the main characters.  In his case it turns out he was asked to make choices for college and as Italian class was full he elected cinema for fun

Ricardo Trogi  got an early break in 1994 when as participant on tv program he was given a chance to travel to make a short film.  When back home he made a series of short films two of which were chosen  for"La Longue Nuit des court-m├ętrang" (Long Night of Short films) at Cannes.  A few years later did his first feature film as a writer/director  "Quebec-Montreal" winning an award for comedy and also success at the box office and some festivals.  Not everyone gets to indulge in what amounts to film autobiography, but he certainly does it very entertainingly.  Maybe not finished.

Ricardo's wife, Anne-Karine Gauthier was the clothing co-ordinator for "1981"  for which she was nominated for a Genie award.  She also worked with "Quebec-Montreal."  She has her own independent career including television productions. 

Three actors carried through all three films, aging naturally.  Jean-Carl Boucher played Ricardo as an 11 year old, then a 17 year old and finally(?) as a 21 year old.  His father Claudio Colangelo played his father and Sandrine Bisson played his mother winning a Jutra award as best supporting actress for "1981" and nominated for a Canadian Screen award for "1987."  Rose Adam played his sister in "1981" and "1987."

I watched one other of his films "Le Mirage" (2015)  It was about a man caught up in trying to maintain his status despite turbulent financial stresses.  His relation with his wife and another couple underwent difficulties for which I became increasingly unconcerned. Sex was a big part of his attempts to maintain self respect, but very counter productive.  All through the film he was confronted by consumer and duty expectations from his wife and two children.  Unlike the triology  the ending did not leave much hope.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

WHO IS GOING TO BEAT TRUMP?

For many Americans getting rid of Trump is more important than policy details.  Some hope legal procedures can be used, but most think it more practical to vote him out of office.  Apparently that task seems easy enough that Democrats already have well over a dozen candidates.

The Republicans had a similar problem in the 2016 primaries with a dozen or so candidates.  From my perspective one problem was that they all felt they had to be tougher than their opponents to get attention. In the end Trump proved to be the most obnoxious.  The Democrats are each trying to be unique while trying to deal with certain litmus tests.

Trump has actually earned a lot of brutal respect (with the help of domestic and foreign enablers) that many Democrats fear him.  He did get in with less than a majority of voters and is concentrating on his base (the deployables).

Getting an early start can be helpful.  They can all expect to be scrutinized like they have never been before.  Their opponents of both parties are looking for dirt and the media is wanting to draw a crowd with sensational tidbits which could range from sex scandals to stumbling over words.  A lot of worthy people are scared off.  Others realize the effort requires a super human effort and after assessing the odds decide they are better off not running.  Sherrod Brown is one example.

Biden and Sanders are supposed to appeal to older voters who are more reliable at the ballot box.  Age is a factor.  Looking back we now realize that Ronald Reagan was in early stages of dementia and a case is being made that Trump is well advanced.  Also the younger generation has new ideas and enthusiasm.  A contrast with a 70+ Trump would be a plus.

Joe Biden should not be compared to Donald Trump's licentiousness, but that possibility has been opened.   Joe is being judged by much higher standards than Trump has been--not caught boasting or what would be considered sexual assault, but taking advantage of male privilege, something many male and even female voters can forgive, but one can imagine Trump will paint him as a hypocrite.
While Joe's career encouraged touching many now feel today such behaviour is overstepping personal space boundaries. 

Bernie Sanders my favorite from 2016 has drawn a lot of attention from progressives.  His age is against him and by declaring himself proudly as Democrat Socialist provides a bigger target.  Ironically a lot of his support comes from younger voters.  Although he has a history of involvement with civil rights he seemed too distant from blacks compared to Hilary Clinton.

My favorite candidate Elizabeth Warren is very conscious of Trump's racist attack which is really accusing her of dishonesty.  She has stood up for ordinary consumers better than others with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders.  She has spent a lot of effort developing policies but it seems voters' attention span doesn't permit too many details.  She is usually ranked in the top four or five and might do well in the debates, but might seem vulnerable to the Trump machine.

Kamala Harris makes a good impression.  Like many politicians she has a history of doing what she thought right and practical at a difficult time.  Some will think that can be used against her.  Her idea of boosting teachers fits in with what I consider a major priority.  Half black and half Indian could gain some support while at the same time be awkward, remembering that Obama was considered by many blacks to not be black enough.  It also reminds that Trump gained votes from racists.

Amy Klobuchar also made a good impression at the Kavanaugh judicial hearing   She has been criticized as being rough on her support staff.  Women are not supposed to be tough.

Beto O'Rourke even though he lost his Senate race in Texas created a lot of enthusiasm.  He is very open and expressive.  An example of changing dynamics was when established Republicans thought Beto's participation in a rock band would turn off voters it had a positive impact.

Cory Booker had made many media appearances and has a share of admirers.  Single men are frowned upon and suspected of being closet gays.  His new girl friend, activist and actress Rosario Dawson could be an asset.

Pete Buttigieg would not have been possible a decade or so ago.  A gay mayor of a fairly small city, but he has already aroused very positive attention.  His intelligence strikes many as outstanding and he has quick reaction to questions.

A lot of good people have been left out of my assessment which is more a reflection of the multitude than their individual value.  My focus is on the Trump question.  Name recognition is critical, after all most people base their decisions of what has filtered through to their attention.

The winner could turn out to be someone not mentioned.  The debates and fund raising will juggle perceptions of relative merit.  The Vice Presidential candidate could emerge from these candidates or not.  Balancing the duo ticket is considered important to the campaign.  The primary candidates in many cases will boost their popularity which can be transferred to the package.  Senators often have a national brand awareness, but Governors actually have more administrative experience.  Hopefully business experience won't be a priority.  Science awareness should be a factor.  Diversity of options could be a positive favor.

Mike Pence is an interesting case.  Apparently Paul Manafort realized that Donald's reputation would not encourage evangelicals to support him and manipulated events to get Mike Pence on as vice president.  It is a wonder that he would pair himself with such as obvious offensive candidate, but it is speculated he had his own ambitions.

The possibility of a female duo has been raised.  It could draw more female voters, but the Democrats are already strong in that area.  Aside from turning off misogynist males it could also have a negative impact with evangelical women who feel women's place is in the home.  Women like Jacinda Ardern draw admiration from both sexes  helping to create a better atmosphere.

In the last election Climate Change was seldom discussed.  Partly suspect that the media did not want to offend some of their big advertisers.  Unfortunately the danger has accelerated and it will be harder for denialists to be taken seriously.

Trump loves to cut down his opponents with a slick nickname and insults.  Everyone is vulnerable, but really he is also very vulnerable.  He seems very sensitive to criticism and is transparent in his hate for Obama who in reality was a far superior president.

I am inclined to believe almost any one of them could beat Trump.  More voters are conscious of third party dangers.  The demographics are moving favorably for the Democrats.  Trump has lost more voters than he has gained by his mercurial ways and policies. Turnout is critical.  Trump has a hard core of believers he can count on, but the more lethargic voters are more conscious they will definitely lose if they don't vote.

In addition to a concern about beating Trump, another danger the Democrats do face is a purity test.  No person is without fault.  I would like to think that intelligent caring people learn from their mistakes, but too many people are not willing to forgive.  Most of the candidates have already found it necessary to apologize for past behavior or choices made under unique circumstances.  A recent example inspired a blog on the topic:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/02/self-righteousness-and-forgiveness.html

PHOTO EXPLANATION:  Admittedly not my best, but Benjamin Franklin was a most admired American who never ran for President.  You can't run today without a lot of money and you really have to want it.  Perhaps suitable people would prefer a role like Benjamin Franklin's, after all he contributed to America's success and is recognized more than many of the subsequent presidents.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Ukrainian barbers

Getting one's hair cut is in some ways a ritual with personal meaning.  I suspect women are more concerned, but it is also important to males.

Growing up in Oshawa my father directed me to where I would get my hair cut and I stayed loyal on my own which was easy as it was right across from my high school, Oshawa Central Collegiate. Steve Salmer was someone my father knew long before and told me a little of their family history.  They didn't have a lot of money and they identified one son as the best chance to get ahead and the rest worked to put him through law school.  That one son became my father's lawyer dealing with my father's trucking business.  Steve, happened to be of Ukrainian descent.

Steve was my barber until we moved from town just after grade 11.  I remember sitting in chairs and told to move further from the window so prospective customers would not be deterred.  Steve humoured me when I rebelled against a regular brush cut as I am sure he had been through it many times.

There are no photos of me getting my hair cut, but my father who was a prolific photographer did take a photo of my brother Marshall at the hands of Steve Salmer.

I knew a fair number of Ukrainians in Oshawa.  I even had a Ukrainian aunt, Aunt Mary Coakwell.  Lots of  friends at school and also Polish and Italians. Michael Starr representing Oshawa was the first Ukrainian cabinet minister. A few years later I helped him to lose an election.  Check out http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/04/my-short-but-educational-political.html  One of my longest time relations with a girl friend was Ukrainian and I spent a lot of time with her family getting to appreciate Ukrainian food and customs..

After many twists and turns before I ended up in Hamilton and met my wife who is actually half Italian and half Ukrainian.  One of her uncles was a Ukrainian lawyer whose father was a Ukrainian Greek Orthodox priest whose church, St Vladimir's I was married in.  Of course I gained some Ukrainian aunts.  Definitely got to appreciate Ukrainian food (my favorite was something called beet leaf Holubschi??

Steve was actually my barber with the longest hair cutting relationship.  In Haliburton I had two barbers--at university I wasn't sure who they were, but do remember I met my wife outside their shop. As I worked different parts of the province I had some good barbers--I remember one Italian barber in Oakville that I went out of my way to visit and also another one in the town of Hagersville, but I was on the move all the time and two reliable barbers actually retired on me.

Getting hair cut is a drain on the pocket book and often inconvenient.  I would sometimes get up early on Saturdays to be first in line otherwise would have to wait one or two hours.  At one stage my wife volunteered.  She would usually comment on my hair cuts--too short, too long or too uneven and I trusted and valued her judgment.  Eventually decided it was cheaper, more convenient and even more satisfying to trust my hair cuts to my wife.

In the warm weather it is done out on our back porch where the mess is easier to handle.

My wife is also Italian, so keeping one's hair at its best comes natural.

Did I learn anything worthy of the Ukrainian culture?  I certainly learned to like much of their food including perogies, and cabbage rolls.  One my favorites was something I remember as beet leaf   holubsti. I enjoyed the dancing and the accompanying music.  I learned a little of their history.  My son who lives in New  Zealand said that he found it very difficult to find pirogies in his new country. On one of our trips to watch the Raptors play my son and I went to Wayne Gretsky's restaurant and enjoyed a Polish version.  Back in Hamilton about six blocks from where we live Loaded Pirogies with some innovative ways of enjoying one of my favorite foods.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Ernest Lubitsch

New discoveries are often unexpected.  Bored with some library selections stumbled on "Trouble in Paradise" which typically had all sorts of praise written on it.  Such praise is not always deserved, however  when I went to check it out, the computer screen said it could not be checked out.  Taking it to a clerk I learned that it was in special collections and wasn't supposed to be on the shelf  About to walk away the clerk said he would put it on my card, but asked me to return it to his desk.

I thought the DVD quality would be risky, but there were no problems.  The movie was in black and white (no surprise), but it grabbed my attention.  Watched the special features and became fascinated.  Reserved as many of his other films as I could find and watched more special features.

Ernst Lubitsch was nominated for an Oscar 3 times without winning, but in 1947 he was given an Honorary Award.  The presenter, Mervyn LeRoy commented that Lubitsch was "a master of innuendo."  He left his mark.

Born in Berlin, Germany in 1892 he developed an interest in theatre from high school and at age 16 left school to try his luck on stage.  His father would support him only if he kept accounts at the family tailor shop.  All through his cinematic career he put a lot of attention to costumes preferring luxurious fabrics.

Ernst performed at cabarets and musical halls in the evening.  By 1911 he worked under Max Reinhardt quickly rising to leading roles and by 1914 was involved in writing and directing plays.

He soon performed in silent films such as  "Shoe Palace Pinkus," (1916) but gradually dropped acting to concentrate on directing and writing.

By 1918 he wrote and directed "The Eyes of the Mummy," a silent films starring Pola Negri who eventually became a major star in Hollywood.   He directed her in a number of other films.   It was filmed in Germany, but very easily adapted for English audiences with inter-titles, then prevalent.

By 1923 he crossed the Atlantic and directed Mary Pickford in "Rosita."  As a German Jew he had decided there was more safety and wealth in Hollywood.  As Hitler came to power in 1933, Ernst made his exit permanent.  He became a U.S. citizen in 1936.

Ernest liked to collaborate with writers especially early on with Hans Kraly who unfortunately ended the relationship when he  ran away with Ernst's first wife.  Samson Raphaelson later commented that they each inspired one another often starting with one or two bad ideas that led to something good.

"Love Parade" (1929) is considered the first musical movie with the songs integrated to the story.  Also the first to have soundtrack produced after production.  Ernst Lubitsch persuaded Maurice Chevalier to play the leading male as a royal courtier, although he felt was too humble for such a role.  He also went with Jeannette McDonald after others had rejected her screen tests.

Back to the film that caught my attention, "Trouble in Paradise" (1931).  It was considered pretty sophisticated with a triangle love affair as the focus and dialogue that would not be accepted four years later when Hollywood adopted a Production Code that amounted to censorship.  The film was taken out of circulation.   It was re-released in 1968.  It was never put in cassette form, but was released as a DVD in 2003

Research uncovered an interesting set of events.  Lubitsch had married an English woman, Vivian Gaye and had one child.  His wife and daughter were in Europe as war declared.  They boarded a ship for America that was sunk by a German submarine in September of 1939 with 118 passenger deaths.  His wife, daughter and maid did survive.   The same year "Ninochka" was released with Greta Garbo  "laughing."

"The Shop Around the Corner "(1940) was supposedly Ernst's favorite film.  He had bought the rights to the original Hungarian play in 1938, but had to wait to line up stars James Stewart and  Margaret Sullavan.  The plot was considered pretty good and has been redone a number of times, most recently as "You Got Mail"







"To Be Or Not To Be" was one I had seen and enjoyed many years previous , but watched with new eyes.   Started in 1941, but released after American entered war.  It was not not well received at first.  As a satire it portrayed Nazis as bumblers. Jack Benny thought it was his best film and Carole Lombard, whose husband Clark Gable had not wanted her to take the film declared it was her most enjoyable film.  Carole died after completing the film and before it was planned for release.   Lubitsch wanted to satirize the Germans, but also the acting profession.  He loved Shakespeare.


Heaven Can Wait (1943) with Don Ameche and Gene Tierney marked a turning point.  He had heart attacks in 1943 and1945 setting him back each time.   Another heart attack at age 55 in 1947 caused his death.

He can credited with developing musicals and pushing censorship limits.  He definitely knew how to get attention.