Sunday, June 30, 2019

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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

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

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

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

Her brother Craig won an athletic scholarship to Princeton and later gave up a corporate career to coach university basketball.  She wanted to go to university on the east coast and Princeton seemed logical and she was accepted.  Later she studied law at Harvard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 24, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 20, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can view a Youtube clip after the book:

We are still learning of Russian connections, but it must be admitted there were other factors in Trump's unexpected ascent to power.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Dark Sky Rising

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

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

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

The Civil War itself provided an opportunity for blacks to demonstrate their value.   Frederick Douglas campaigned for blacks to be accepted in the U.S. army and became a recruiter.  180,000 served in the army and another 19,000 in the navy.  Many blacks were able to provide useful intelligence for the Union cause.  Close to 40,000 died in their effort with 3/4 resulting from disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If this book takes too long for you to read consider the link below that is an hour Youtube video, covering much of the same material with the author being interviewed for his tv production based on the Reconstruction tying it effectively to recent events.

Friday, June 14, 2019

My 60 year love affair with Basketball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update:  August 11, 2021  Not sure what year, but Hamilton, under ownership of Ron Foxcroft (inventor of the Fox whistle and famed referee) took part in a new league that had the idea of limiting the height factor.  All teams were given a height total for the players on the floor at any one time, which meant if you elected to have one exceptionally tall player he had to be balanced with shorter players.  I was only able to watch one game, before the league collapsed due to a massive fraud.  Nobody has been able to revive the idea, but it would probably make games more exciting and accessible for more people.

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 a promising popular player, Jonas Valunciunas).  Fans were very upset until the season actually began.  All three players became starters.  Kyle Lowry retained his critical starter role, but a backup player, Pascal Siakim, perhaps the league's most improved player stepped up for the fifth spot.  He is from Cameroon with his first language French and is always smiling and looks to be the future.

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

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.

I had become very used to telling people how wonderful a product was, but I learned it is important to learn its limitations.  It is easy to exaggerate or leave out details. Our cleaning product couldn't clean everything but in other cases it could damage some materials.  Another problem I learned was that although it was environmental some people were allergic.  I had never been one to embellish and was usually careful to be honest, but just as I probably never learned all the good things about my product I also was unaware of some of the damaging effects.

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.  I got my 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.  There was a good story on the package but it 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 investor 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 let me 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.  I kept 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. I learned 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 sales manager 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 experience:

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 resulted in a sale.

One interesting conversation I had with a store manager in a north of Toronto suburb was that Filipino maids had been the best champions for the dog toothbrush.  So many of them had taken on the responsibilities of taking care of the family dog and had decided brushing teeth was good for the dog's health.

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 the owner's 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 pet products.

After maybe half a year my new franchisee found out they had been cheated.  Promised exclusivity for Ontario they 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.  The fact that sensitive birds more than tolerated our product gave confidence with other owners who had concerns.

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 Canada, 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 learned a lot at trade shows which you can find at

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 referrals.

As our wholesaler dealt with mainly independent stores we needed a bigger wholesaler or chain stores.  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 just south of Montreal in Brossard.  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 French 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.  Check:

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 speaking poor French.  Rejection is the one reason most people avoid selling and the most successful sales people have suffered the most rejection.  On one call I was greeted at the door by the owner who yelled that he had no time for salespeople and I should leave before I got a chance to tell what I was selling.  I later met him at a trade show where he had come with some other buyers from the same town who insisted he look at my product.  He became a dealer and his wife who owned a different store also came on board.

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 his priority was 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 Miramichi, 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) 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 to kill oneself.  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 (more popularity known as Obamacare) 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 Affordable Care Act.  Many people felt that they should be 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.

It is easy to be self righteous but in fact we are all guilty:

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,