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 http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/06/smoking-and-movies.html  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 http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/09/focus-is-crucial-for-work-and-play.html

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.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/03/the-greatest-movie-ever-sold.html

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.
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/04/the-content-trap.html

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 http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/06/to-sell-is-human-and-we-all-do-it.html

Monday, May 20, 2019

THREE BOLLYWOOD FILMS THAT GOT MY ATTENTION

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,  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/11/farhan-akhtar-young-man-on-rise-in.html

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  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/11/pink-sensitive-film-to-deal-with-consent.html  

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 http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/06/shah-rukh-khan-worlds-most-famous-actor.html

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."

For a comparison with the original, "The Invisible Guest" see http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/09/a-masterpiece-film-and-very-good-remake.html

"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:
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/12/ayushmann-khuranna-actor-to-watch.html   Another blog on Ayushmann for "Article 15' http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/09/article-15.html

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

ALARM BELLS ON IRAN

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, Tehran 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 http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/07/thieves-of-state.html

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 against him 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
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/07/the-iran-nuclear-agreement.html 

hopes for an agreement
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/04/will-we-waste-another-opportunity.html

if you enjoy movies, you might appreciate there are dissidents in Iran and there is also artistry.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/03/three-persian-directors.html 







Tuesday, May 7, 2019

CHINA'S SECRET STRATEGY TO REPLACE AMERICA AS THE GLOBAL SUPERPOWER

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 concerned 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  http://michaelpillsbury.net/  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

Monday, May 6, 2019

May 7th 2019 a Walk to Bayfront Park

Today is about 10 days after my official retirement and my first visit to Bayfront Park.  It is scarcely ten minutes from my front door and for awhile one can pretend they are not in an industrial city.

With kids off to school, the morning is seniors time.    Still early in the season, but one can sense Nature reasserting itself.



 The Sakura project was the planting of Japanese cherry trees.  I have watched them over the years at first little more than saplings.  In 2019 they are growing taller and blooming brighter.









As one goes down to the parking lot there is a split between a path to the CNR railway and the trail.









First time I have seen a turtle at this location.
















Seagulls are very common and I have seen many eating garbage once fascinated by seagulls feasting on french fries with vinegar.  This is the first time I have actually seen one about to eat a fish (from the Hamilton Harbour no less).











Along the trail greeted by Goose and Gander and some very young goslings.  At this time of year most of the goslings are kept safer in Cootes Paradise on the other side of the High Level Bridge.  They must be more trusting of trail walkers.






Cormorants are the most interesting birds.  Her is one on the left flapping his wings to dry off.  They can be tricky to photograph as they are apt to plunge under the water to chase a fish and emerge several meters away.  This island demonstrates a high water level.  It is similar or even the same as one I used for my Facebook background when the water was lower and more land visible.



A redwing blackbird.  They seem to love being near the water.








Two swans.  In a few weeks it is normal for them to nest right near where I earlier saw a turtle.

Somewhere near here I was spotted by an old friend, Barbara with a friend who had noticed beavers had busy gnawing at trees.  Several years ago I had watched with others while a beaver dragged a tree across the trail.






Gaze towards the east and one can the Skyway Bridge and ships in the harbour.







Turn away from the water and one can see trains whizzing by.












Just across from Bayfront Park is a corner that has been used for the Sunset Cultural Garden that had been set up by the Chinese community of Hamilton.  Many years ago I remember signing a petition to reserve this land for a garden.  People had been known to meditate here as it is so peaceful.  There are poems in stone in twelve different languages including Chinese, Korean, Gujarti and Arabic.





Flowers are blooming, but there will be more variety in a few weeks.  So something to look forward to.











I have enjoyed lots of interesting natural settings  in Canada and New Zealand more isolated from cities, but I am grateful that such a place a Bayfront Park exists for it gives me a sense of awe.