Sunday, November 17, 2019

"The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.

The title quote is from Bertrand Russell who has encapsulated the key decision for our future.

When one is taught evolution the first thing that registers is that competition is critical to best adapt to the environment.  We come to understand that our ancestors were the victors in this contest or we wouldn't exist.  Taken to an extreme it seems logical that if we are to win it has to be at the expense of someone else.  A dog eat dog existence is what we have evolved through.

Martin Nowak in "Super Cooperators"  contends that without cooperation  humankind would not have survived and certainly not evolved to a complex sophisticated society.  Innovation occurs because of cooperation.  The author combines an interest in mathematics and biology.  To pursue his goal of understanding the role of cooperation in evolution he uses game theory as a tool. 

The Prisoner's dilemma forces a decision on two prisoners who are not aware of what the other person is deciding.  The consequences regarding their punishment are a lesser sentence, a greater sentence or the same sentence.  Repetition changes the response.  Initially it is rational to protect oneself, but better outcomes can occur if some cooperation happens.  The reader might feel this can happen only with conscious intelligent beings, but the author suggests at the molecular level randomness gradually has positive results.  Mutations are common enough and we understand it depends which ones are most adapted to the current environment that survive and procreate.

It is natural to be selfish at the expense of competition.  But it is also beneficial to cooperate and innovate to improve chances not only to survive, but also to thrive.  He outlines five mechanisms that provide opportunities for cooperation.  Direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, spatial factors, group factors and kin selection.

A key development in evolution was the division of labour.  E. O Wilson studied ants and other insects and discovered that they have a social organization comparable to humans.  They have divided up the tasks necessary to protect their community.  Read more

To Martin  one of the key developments of evolution that helps set humans apart from other animals is communication with language.  He attempts to understand with mathematics.  Communication requires both a sender and a receiver, i.e. cooperation.  Language fosters cooperation allowing humans to communicate across time and space.  The first bits of language might have been grunts.

 It seems like a hopeless task, but more technology suggests a few possibilities.  One line is the past tense of verbs.  What we call regular verbs have a standard format, eg. help turns to helped in the past tense.  What we call irregular verbs are different, eg.  know turns to knew in the past tense.  The author speculates that this indicates frequency of use and might indicate which words were more common.  Another line depends on sequence of words.  This will be an ongoing project, but indicates that language is an important part of evolution and is tightly tied to cooperation.

The tragedy of the commons has been illustrated by many games.  Essentially it boils down to whenever anyone can share a common resource, the resource tends to diminish.  Originally a common pasture was used as an example, but a modern example is climate change as anyone can benefit by exacerbating the environment and it requires a universal effort to abate.

Elinor Ostrom winner of the 2009 Nobel prize for economics dealt with the problem of common pools of resources.  Economics had long contended that economic decisions were rational assuming that all participants were well informed of options and above all rational.  In fact in many situations the "rational" choice was to take as much as you can get away with before other participants had taken more than their fair share.  But Elinor noted that many other situations were resolved to communal benefit.  A key factor to better use is that everyone is informed of the total situation.  Rules not only need to be made, there is needed a mechanism for enforcement.   Sanctions against abuse can start out simple, but need to be graduated.

Martin uses the example of dealing with water shortages in California.  They publicized abusers, promoted good users, used all manner of tools such as T shirts, stickers and awards.  California earlier concerned about air quality (that is another common pool resource) they imposed emission restrictions for cars that have been adopted by manufacturers.  The point he makes is that reputation does impact policies.

Martin feels that "the crucial interactions of everyday life are in the context of repetition and reputation."  He concedes that wherever there is cooperation there is also the danger of exploitation.

I would like to end with a quotation that sums up choices for our future.  "we can either move up to the next step of evolutionary complexity or go into decline even become extinct.  Though global problems loom large, we could be on the verge of the next transition in social organization."

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Thin Man series

 Never watched any of the Thin Man series when they were often available on tv.  Some of the clever dialogue would probably have passed over my head.  Each of us have missed hidden treasures and for me this one of them.
The story revolved around a reluctant detective who had dazzled Myrna  Loy who married him and he lived off her money shamelessly smoking, drinking, gambling and watching sports events.

The resolution of the mystery is with a group of interested people sometimes at a dinner table.  Nick doesn't necessarily know who committed the murder, but does know someone at the gathering did it and others will confirm details.  Of course there are many red herrings and dead ends, but it all makes satisfying sense in the end.   Along the way is much clever dialogue and amusing situations, but of course there is always a murder to spice things up.

The Thin Man turned into a series of movies and later for a television series.  My research revealed a lot of interesting people who contributed to its success.  

Clever dialogue flows from the writers.  Nowadays dialogue is loaded with four letter words and is laughed at, but even before the Code more effort is put into getting a laugh.  Double entendre jokes are a little more difficult and really more satisfying when done well.

Dashiell Hammett wrote the book that inspired the series. Near as I can tell he provided the character and some strands of plot especially for the first one, but to some extent for the rest of the series.  His credentials are impressive as he had worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency at different times from Baltimore, Seattle and San Francisco.  He wrote "The Maltese Falcon," which was made into two movies.  He also wrote "Watch on The Rhine," which in movie format won an Oscar.  He lived off and on with another famous writer, Lillian Hellman.

Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, a married couple were told to use a Dashiell Hammett book only as a guideline and to include lots of snappy dialogue.  The initial release came out just before the Code was enacted allowing a lot more freedom that was subsequently squelched.  Although supposedly sophisticated the later films showed them in twin beds.  The thin man of the title was actually referring to someone being searched for, but so many people thought the protagonist played by William Powell was the Thin Man, so that misunderstanding was adopted.

Albert had been a child actor, including in 1919, Anne of Green Gables.  His last acting was in 1940 in "Mr & Mrs. North" on Broadway.  He had been involved in writing in Broadway and hooked up with Frances a Broadway writer, marrying and moving to Hollywood.  Their first film was "Up Pops the Devil."  As a team they were nominated for four Oscars, "The Thin Man," "After The Thin Man," "Father of the Bride" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."  Also won award for "the Diary of Anne Frank."  Wrote the perennial Christmas favorite, "It's a Wonderful Life."

Irving Brecher wrote the screenplay for "Shadow of the Thin Man."  An early start was with radio that gave him the opportunity to write for Milton Berle and Groucho Marx.  He got an Oscar nomination for "Meet me in St Louis."  As a baby boomer I remember "The Life of Riley," and "Bye Bye Birdie."  He also was a producer for tv.

A co-writer for "Shadow of the Thin Man" was Harvey Kurnitz who at one time had been a reporter.  He wrote a book, "Fast Company" and was given the opportunity to write the screenplay which led to many other scripts.  Some of his other film writing included, "Witness for the Prosecution," "Hatari" and "A Shot in the Dark."  He also contributed to "The Thin Man Goes Home."

"For "The Thin Man Goes Home" had two writers of interest.  Robert Riskin had an original story used for the script and worked on the screenplay.  He won an Oscar for "It Happened One Night."  He worked a lot with Frank Capra on such films at "Mr Deeds Goes to Town."  Altogether films he wrote won 2 Oscars and had three other nominations.  Perhaps his best known film was "Top Hat."  He also wrote three episodes of the tv. version of "The Thin Man."

 For "Song of the Thin Man," used at least three writers.  Steve Fisher is perhaps best known today for "Destination Tokyo" and several tv series including "Fantasy Island," "McMillan and  Wife" and "Ripcord."  Nat Perrin was a lawyer who never practiced, but instead worked for Warner Brothers in their publicity department and from there he got some support from Groucho Marx and was hired as a gag writer.  Later he too wrote for tv. shows and also became a director and a producer.  Harry Crane was a stand up comic at age 19 and wrote for Laurel and Hardy and later wrote for tv series including Dean Martin and Joey Bishop.

W.S (Woodbridge Strong) Van Dyke directed the first "The Thin Man in 1934 and went onto direct another three sequels.  In 1916 he had been hired as one of many assistants to D. W. Griffith making "Intolerance."  By 1917 he was directing his own films.  In 1920 he earned the nickname "One Take Woody" while filming Jack Dempsey who tended to knock opponents out with one punch making it difficult to repeat.  He developed the reputation of filming quickly and cheaply.  He worked with Myrna Loy and William Powell in their first film together, "Manhattan Melodrama" in 1934, a movie made famous because it was watched by John Dillinger just before he was shot to death.  The same year Dyke filmed "The Thin Man" in 16 days.   He did a variety of interesting movies, including , "San Francisco" "Tarzan the Ape Man" and 'Rose-Marie."   He worked closely with Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy.  At the time of Nelson Eddy's marriage he stopped Jeanette's attempted suicide.  In 1961 he suffered from a heart condition and cancer and decided to commit suicide.

Richard Thorpe directed "The Thin Man Goes Home" and was also noted for efficient shootings.  He had come up from vaudeville and then silent films as both writer and actor.  He was one of five uncredited directors for "The Wizard of Oz."  Directed Johnny Weismueller in Tarzan movies and Elvis Presley in "Fun in Acapulco."

Edward Buzzell directed the last of the Thin Man movies, "Song of the Thin Man."  He had been a musical comedy star on Broadway and came to Hollywood for the film version of "Little Johnny Jones."  He did a number of shorts and got into directing through that format.  He directed a number of Marx Brothers films.

William Powell for me is a big reason for the success of The Thin Man.  He started on the New York stage in 1912 and moved to Hollywood for the silent film era and encountered marginal success, but unlike many others, sound boosted his career.  He had great comedic timing and his stage training gave him an edge.  He never gets too excited and usually has a sarcastic remark after surprises.  In 1934 he switched to MGM studios and his first film was "Manhattan Melodrama" with Myrna Loy (the first of 14 films they appeared in together).  His next film was "The Thin Man" and over the next 13 years added 5 more sequels.  He had 3 Oscar nominations including "The Thin Man."  In 1936 he was the star of "The Great Ziegfield" when it won the Oscar for Best Picture.  He had a two year relationship with Jean Harlow, but after they became engaged she died.  Later he married Carole Lombard who he had appeared with in "My Man Godfrey," but they divorced after two years.  His third marriage was after knowing Diana Lewis for only three weeks, but this one lasted 44 years until his death in 1984.

Myrna Loy in 1934, had been declared "Queen of Hollywood" while Clark Gable (they had been paired in 7 movies) was declared the "King of Hollywood."  In my experience Myrna Loy seemed to always play an understanding wife, but in fact in the silent era was type cast in vamp roles.  An early break came when she was spotted by Mrs. Rudolph Valentino on stage and she was able to get a role in a motion picture.  Myrna was in the first feature film with synchronized sound,  "Don Juan" in 1926 soon followed by an appearance in the first movie with audible sound, "The Jazz Singer" in 1927.  It was a smooth transition to sound films for her and she was noted for good comic timing.  She was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1985.  She once appeared in black face in a movie and proclaimed her shame for that role.  She was Co-Chairman of the Advisory Council of the National Committee against Discrimination in Housing which exposed segregation in federal funded projects.

There is a wonderful world of black and white films where the story is more of a king that is the case today.

Sunday, November 10, 2019


"Shopping for Votes" was published in 2013, but tracked towards our recent Canadian election.  It recounts a refining of marketing methods to win elections. 

There has always been an effort to encourage favorable voters out to the polls and to persuade as many to support a party candidate as practical.  Over the years the process has become more refined. Susan Delacourt focuses on Canadian development realizing it tends to follow American developments.

Like most western nations Canada has been moving to a consumer society.  This is reflected in political parties striving to get elected.  The end of World War II launched released Canadians from the Depression and war austerity.  1945 saw the Family Bonus helping young families and became a major factor for Newfoundland to join Confederation.  A few decades later and Sunday shopping became an election issue as the public wanted more freedom to spend their money at their convenience.

One of the early characters encountered in the book is Dalton Camp who brought his advertising expertise to support John Diefenbaker in 1954.  I enjoyed listening to him with Peter Gzowski, Eric Kierens and Stephen Lewis talk on the radio.  During the course of the radio programs Dalton got a heart transplant enabling him to live a few more productive years.  He was credited with helping Diefenbaker win elections in 1957 and 1958.  Lots of ideas, but advertising was improved under Dalton's care.

Allan Gregg with a statistical background and a hippy lifestyle took a more scientific approach.  He understood polling and the type of questions that would help analyze.   He broke polls down to ridings.  Later promoted The Tragically Hip.

Polls can be analyzed and conclusions drawn, but have their limitations.  Focus groups attempt to delve deeper.  

Both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were conservative, but realized they had to determine what the voters actually wanted.  Value research  emotional response to speeches used in analyzing Ronald Reagan

Fund raising was a very critical activity for any political party, particularly as marketing and advertising became essential to get elected.  Americans developed direct mail as a key tool and were constantly refining targeting and selecting most effective message.  These methods spread to Canada.

By the 1988 election Gregg  was using his poll results to plan Mulroney's travel.  Gregg counseled against an idea Mulroney had, namely the GST.  Polling indicated that voters would resent any new taxes.  At about this time I was a salesman phoning a supplier to get pricing on some furniture and learned about a manufacturer's tax.  This was a hidden tax and for some reason Mulroney felt people should be aware of taxes.  He also realized that there was a shift in spending from goods to service where taxing was absent.  He used up most of political capital in implementing the GST   The Liberals ran against this tax, but after they achieved power realized there was no easy way to replace the needed revenue.  Other parties minimized some of the pain by blending the federal tax with a provincial tax into HST.  Stephen Harper decided it would be good politics to reduce the tax, even though it would hurt revenue, especially including other tax breaks.  Taxes have always been hated by voters.

Stephen Harper had strong views, but realized to get power, marketing and advertising were critical.  Focused on those who voted, but did not follow issues.  Realized half of Canadians did not follow the news in print or tv.  He remembered Ron Reagan cut money  to such groups as disabled and nursing home tenants, but a photo with these groups was remembered better.  Staging was important and staff was hired to optimize opportunities to make a strong impression.  One of his advisors, Dimitri Pantazopoulos believed in sales techniques learned from "Customer Centerd Sellng by Robert Jolles adapting concept to politics.

An American conservative advisor, Frank Luntz suggested to Harper tying his campaign to the national obsession with hockey.  Harper not only had himself photographed attending son's hockey practice, but wrote a book on hockey.  Some noticed that the hockey logo for the Vancouver Olympics resembled the Conservative logo, including color.  Furthermore he made visits to local Tim Horton outlets often making hockey references.

Attack ads became common outside election campaigns.  Prominent victims included Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. 

Data bases are now recognized as the key part of election strategy.  A breakthrough for Canada was the use of postal codes that could break down locations that could be targeted.  Harper's set a strategy to develop data base for each riding.  Garth Turner (who at one time I regularly read) became a Conservative Member of Parliament, but became disillusioned that he was expected to contribute confidential information to a data base.  Targeting neighborhoods allowed the Conservatives to develop voter suppression robocalls, but were fined after an election.

A personal complaint has been Harper discarding a law set up by Jean Chretien that awarded $2.50 for a party for each vote it obtained.  Running a successful campaign requires a lot of money and the Conservatives had the best access to corporate money.  Public money for elections is one step to give a voice to many that are currently drowned out.

Marketing developments are not restricted to any one party.  To survive all the parties that are actually getting members elected are adopting as much expertise as they can. 

An idea of what I think of Stephen Harper and more of his marketing skills can be found at: 

As a salesman I came to realize that selling and marketing are different, but are complementary. My experiences helped develop my understanding of the importance of marketing.  You can follow my thinking regarding commercial selling, marketing all the way to data bases starting at:, -and-marketing-same-thing.html

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Best of Enemies

About two years ago it was lamented that no black actors had been nominated for an Oscar, then from my point of view appeared many notable films with black themes (and of course actors).  This past year I have viewed four black themed movies

"Green Book" was sort of a birthday present watched on the big screen and after winning the Oscar it seemed a worthy choice.  Based on true events it let me as an outsider appreciate it was a very nervy endeavor to tour the southern states.  Hypocrisy was obvious from those who enjoyed piano mastery, but denied basic decency.  As I married into an Italian family I enjoyed the black character encountering their culture in a very social way.  Also afterwards I learned that after the film events the pianist also appeared in Hamilton.

"The Hate U Give" was another movie, this time set in Jackson, Mississippi.  Caught between the white and black worlds the lead felt pressured in a murder case.  We got good insight into black struggle for dignity and being practical.  Amanda Stenberg was fantastic. 

"BlacKkKlansman" directed by Spike Lee made one feel good at how a black man fooled some bigots.  Current history hit home a few times.

If "Beale Street Could Talk"  was set up as a love story that was ruined by a racist cop.  There were a lot of complaints about the length.  Originally written by James Baldwin who set up the slow pace.  Full of stereotypical people with a lot of racism.

"The Best of Enemies" showed a different side of the issue--white alienation.  Glad I was able to see special features which included the real characters as well as cast and crew members.

"The Best of Enemies" set in Durham,North Carolina in 1971 was another battle between whites and blacks.  One difference was we were given a glimpse of white alienation.  The white leader, C.P. Ellis came from a poor background, owned a gas station and talked of his joy of being accepted by the Klu Klux Klan and later of becoming their leader.   As the events progressed and he was forced to deal with blacks to solve the problems after a black school suffered a fire he came to understand their viewpoint.  Trying to persuade a white veteran to support the segregationists he learned that a local black had  served honorably in Vietnam.  As he was concerned about his own children he came to appreciate that black parents were very concerned about their children's suffering inferior education.  He eventually voted for de-segregation and gave up his Klu Klux Klan membership.  He lost friends, suffered some sabotage at his business, but now that he was willing to serve blacks they saved his business by gassing up.

The principle black advocate was Ann Atwater.  She was a single mother and very active against civil rights abuses.  She hated whites, assuming the worst.  Chosen as a co-chairman along with C.P. Ellis she eventually appreciated all whites were not blind and that she could work with them.

The key facilitator in the events was a black man, Bill Riddick brought in from Raleigh to organize what was called a charrette a process intended as a mediation spread over 10 days.  He was very diplomatic, accepting that whites wanted to protect their interests, but by choosing the two co-chairmen and then a random selection of representative voters and then letting an open discussion of concerns.  There certainly was a risk and coercion was used on the wavering white voters  some of which was effective.  In the end the big surprise with the last decisive vote was C.P. Ellis who had completely changed his attitude.

What made the movie more real to me were special features with the real people who actually became friends and campaigned together on civil rights manner.  I was very impressed by Ann Atwater who use her physical bulk to block doors when confronted by white segregationists.

Robin Bissell was the director, writer and producer.  The idea came from Osha Gray Davidson who had written an article about the actual events.  Robin had been an executive producer of "Free State of Jones," a movie about a small section of the south that managed to be independent of the Civil War rebels.  see more

Marcelo Zaros a Brazilian wrote the music.  He had earlier done "Wonder," "Fences" and "Enough Said."

David Lanzenberg" handled the cinematography.  Earlier he had done "The Age of Adaline."

Harry Yoon was the editor.  An earlier film for him was "Detroit.
Sam Rockwell played the Klu Klux Klan leader.  Movie fans have a tendency to project personal attributes of a role.  Sam has played a lot of what might be called country bumpkins and in this film played at the beginning a prejudiced man who regularly used the n word.  To me it is acting at his finest when one can subvert their own views to project a repulsive image.  Sam also did a good job as George W. Bush in "Vice."  He won best supporting actor for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri." 

Taraji P Henson played Ann Atwater.  Earlier in the same year she had been in "What Men Want," with a very different physical appearance and persona.  She has also appeared in "Hidden Figures." She was nominated for the Oscar best supporting actress in "The Case of Benjamin Button."  She paid for her education at Howard University as a secretary at the Pentagon during the day and as a singing/dancing waitress on a dining cruise.  An ex boyfriend and father of her child had been murdered.

Babou Ceesay, a British actor played Bill Riddick, the one who kept calm and facilitated aggressive antagonists to negotiate.  He appeared in "Eye in the Sky,"  After "The Best of Enemies" he appeared in what looks to be an interesting British tv series, "Dark Money."

Hate cannot exist without ignorance.   The process in this film would be difficult to form when circumstances are full of hate and little willingness to compromise, however an ideal to strive for.  Student exchanges are popular, but are mostly among relatively open minded people.