Thursday, January 30, 2020


If I had to pick one issue it would be HONESTY.  If I didn't agree with a politician I would vote for someone else.  The problem then is maybe they are not honest--a basic problem for all politicians and consequently for all voters.  We know by past action what a politician has done, although many will admit it was a mistake or they have changed their mind.  You can more easily determine which way a politician is inclined and take that into calculations.

Most politicians gain power by offering to fix a problem.  It might be high taxes, it might be a deficit, it might be a threatening foreign power, it might be freedom for some group that is persecuted, it might be to restore or build needed infra structure or it might be to replaced a disliked elected official..  Most of us recognize that although we might identify with the offer the politician gains power in many other areas.

Some voters are wary of politicians and focus on something they understand.  The assumption might be if the politician takes care of my concern, they will have to please other people with different concerns with the assumption that other people are concerned.  In some cases the voter doesn't care or doesn't have the resources to understand all the issues.

Smart politicians can not do anything unless they get power.  Being honest is not enough as anything you offer is likely to bother at least some voters.  A determination is calculated as to what gets the voter's attention.  Emotions carry more weight than reason, although both factor into a a voting decision.

My concern is one issue voters.  In honesty I have a view on these issues and have feelings that are mixed.  Like anyone I wish someone I vote for would take my side on every issue, but in fact I don't have a side on many issues such as if we give more money for a particular concern do we take from another concern or raise taxes or borrow money.  Is everyone from a persecuted group deserve to be treated as equal?

To me every politician has there own agenda some of whom just like power, but most every one has their own idea of what is important.  Many have adopted positions on emotional issues that they may or may not really believe.  Below are a number of one issue concerns that I feel have been abused.

ABORTION;  Probably the most hard rock concern for voters.  It is doubtful that anyone thinks abortion is the ideal solution.  It is killing a living being which also has to be frightening to any human.  Many decisions are just as life and death such as war, executions, laws regarding safety, in fact many laws that impact lives.

As a male it is relatively easy for me to condemn any woman foolish enough to get pregnant when they don't want to be.  But because I am male I understand how sex driven men are--for the physical pleasure, for the dominating ego trip or for their own emotional insecurities.  Married males may find a pregnant woman a burden, but most accept it.  A woman may have sex to please a man, for the pleasure or against their will or consciousness and they may want a child.

The reasons why women want an abortion include the shame, especially if unmarried.  Another shame may result from rape or incest.  Married women with other children may feel guilty that they cannot properly support another child.  There may be health concerns that may or may not relate to a previous pregnancy.  Some reasons may seem frivolous to others such it might ruin their figure, might disrupt their career, might be the wrong sex.  If a major birth defect is detected it may be the greed of not wanting a deformed child or possibly bringing another being into a suffering existence.  As outsiders we do not have to live with the consequences of either unwilling or desired sex.

We know that many "sins" will be sought disregarding restrictions.  Such activities as gambling, alcohol, drugs and sex have a universal demand that is often met outside legal bounds.  Criminals thrive in such conditions.  There are illegal abortionists, many of them of questionable experience that can compound the harm by infertility or maternal damage.

What can be done in the case of an unwanted pregnancy?  Have no doubt unwanted pregnancy not only causes stress for the woman involved, but often for others as unwanted children come to know it and the shame evoked paints others.  The best thing of course is to prevent them, but many of the same people who oppose abortion also oppose contraception and sex education.  What they seem to be upset about is promiscuity which admittedly is not usually good.  Trump at one time stated he felt the woman needed to be punished.  Some argue that the only purpose of sex is procreation, but that is short sighted.  Sex is a bonding activity that often helps keep parents together and in general cements relationships.

What can society do to lessen abortion and increase their population strength.  Contraception and sex education have proven they cut down on unwanted pregnancies.  Some governments concerned about losing population have found financial support is critical.  If government wants more people (as cannon fodder, pliant consumers, or prestige) paying regular payments to help support children is helpful.  Immediate concern is affect on income which is dealt with maternity leave, paternity leave which can provide some income and protect job security.  Mothers can be more productive (and happy) with affordable child care and flexibility in working conditions.

Rich people will be able to get abortions when they feel the need.  Poor people will either take desperate measures or accept other consequences.  They will suffer in various ways.  Perhaps some of the unwanted babies will be loved, but many will be seen as a burden.

Adoptions have for all history provided a way of turning unwanted babies to wanted babies.  There may be a trade off between high standards for approval and available adopters.  One area that has expanded is the acceptance of gay couples. 

GAYS:  Most heterosexuals feel what they consider normal sexual drives and may feel threatened by someone who feels differently.  Sexual identity is important to everyone, but it is only a part of our identity.  I grew up where homosexuals were objects of ridicule but I didn't really know any.  As I got older, homophobia crept in.  Fear that someone else's sexual drives would be imposed.  Gradually gays came out of the closet, usually in cities where they might find safety in numbers.  The AIDS crisis was instrumental to breaking out as they fought against ignorance in an effort to cope.  Those who have come into more contact with gays as I have a bit have found there is common ground and this recognition makes each more productive.

RACISM/IMMIGRATION:  The world has never been more aware of its diversity and integrated, but many feel uncomfortable.  Others feel threatened.   The feelings are natural but have been harnessed by others who need someone to blame for problems they are responsible for.   Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner, actually descended from "poor white trash" once pointed out:  if you can convince the poorest white man he is better than any black man you can pick his pocket.  It is not automation or offshoring that caused your poverty, but the blacks and the browns. After Lyndon Johnson signed the civil rights legislation the Republicans developed a southern strategy that used symbolic gestures and code words that suggested they would keep blacks and other minorities in their place.  They were able to use the old slaver founders influence on the constitution to leverage their power.

To me the most effective way to lower racism is to have more contact between different races.  Not quite as effective, but supportive is education, 

 GUNS:  It has been proven that loose gun laws increase homicides and suicides.  But there is protest encouraged by the National Rife Association that feigns big concern for the Second Amendment.  The second amendment can be interpreted in many ways, but it is not a license to do away with restrictions.  My argument would be that a car is also a valuable asset, but is recognized as potentially dangerous.  We accept many restrictions in the interest not only protecting ourselves, but also society.  Protection is a basic right of every human but at some point too many guns in fact leaves more people vulnerable.  It is true that those who don't respect the law or think they are smarter than enforcement will get guns, but that is a poor reason to loosen the law.

APOCALYPTIC:  This is hard to understand among outsiders.  It is the belief that we are approaching the second coming of Christ in which Christians ascend to heaven.  The catch is that Israel must be controlled by Jews.  There is a section of American voters and others who are doing what they can to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish state which means a toleration of Israeli claims on Palestinian territories.  This has permeated American media where Palestinians are pictured as backward and hateful.  It is difficult to argue against the extreme views of evangelicals who see their eternal salvation at stake.  They have proven that they can in fact support Israeli domination.  Trump is not the first politician to suggest he can boost Israeli dominance, but he has been the most active with action to please the Israelis and the evangelicals, but upsetting to the Palestinians and Muslims.  For me it is hard to take their contentions seriously and I do appreciate that they are causing tension instead of easing it. 

It has to be added that many of these one issue voters understand they have more power if they support other one issue groups.  Some politicians understand they can also get more power if they can join these causes together.  The Republicans representing big business and the wealthy understand this and have long added social hot buttons to their official policies
Yes there is an alternative universe, although the inhabitants mostly are not as adamant or united with others.  Some one issue concerns include climate crisis, gun control, nuclear arms containment, campaign finance, pollution, minority rights and discrimination against a variety of people.  Most of them would be classed as liberals.  In general liberals are seeking change while conservatives feel comfortable with the status quo.  What complicates it is that the very wealthy want to set the rules so they come out on top.  It would be easy for the masses to vote for lower taxes and greater benefits and to actually limit the ability to pile up more wealth at their expense, but they don't.

Human nature being what it is there will always be a wide variety of opinions and there will always be some who are better able to marshal circumstances to gain power .  If voters are able to study every issue they would make better decisions.  It is easy to be self righteous, but the more time and effort put into studying the closer we will come to good decisions.  As there are no end to issues of concern it is necessary to balance them.  Education (not just vocational education) is critical in a nation's ability to make rational decisions.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


"The Grizzlies" (2018) was a most improbable film for me to be bothered with.  Sports films follow a formula that is easily predictable and the description seemed a bit hokey. A bunch of losers get together and somehow miraculously win the championship at the last minute.  This is not quite like that.  Except these are real losers who are unaware of how scary the outside world is, except they are also afraid of it.

Confession:  I watched it because I was curious to see Tantoo Cardinal whose name I had assumed was male, and then realized she had been in a number of movies I have seen, but hadn't identified her.  I am now embarrassed by my ignorance, but pleased to learn more about her and this particular movie.  See more below

Suicide starts the film and we learn the highest suicide rate in the world is right there in Nunavut.  As you get to know and identify with the some of the characters there are more suicides.  Along the way are abusive dysfunctional families, alcoholism and distrust of the whites.  One of the background songs was by Kelly Fraser who herself committed suicide

A young southern teacher comes to the isolated Arctic town of Kugluktuk basically as he couldn't get a job anywhere else and is naive particularly when it comes to the native culture all the way through the film.  They have had bad experiences with the white man and their broken promises.  Russ is reprimanded for raising hopes. He has a great love for lacrosse and takes out some of his frustration shooting a ball against an empty garbage bin.

Yes there is a resemblance to all those other sports formulas, but with a big difference.  The Inuit are humiliated on the playing field and finally decide that just one goal will do it and of course that does indeed occur at the end of the tournament.  It is the process that is key to enjoying the movie.

See an earlier blog about a lacrosse movie that includes a personal connection to lacrosse plus opinions regarding native involvement, etc.

Based on a true story.  At the end many of the characters are updated and it appears that the real benefit came from finding a different path.

A story worth telling, but who wants to sit through an amateur presentation.  This project attracted and recruited a crew and cast that hits home.

Producers are responsible for organizing the many elements.  Miranda de Pencier was one of the original drivers and became director as well as producer.  She had been an actress, producer, writer and director including some of the Anne of Green Gables series, "Street Legal" and one Inuit short, "Throat Song."  She also directed "The Grizzlies."

Others on the producing team included Alethea Arnaquq-Baril who grew up in Iqaluit and Stacey Aglok MacDonald who grew up in Kugluktuk and both of them had been involved with television shows in the Inuktitut language.  Another  was Vinay Virmani who has been an actor, writer and producer with "Breakaway" and "Dr Cabbie" that involved Bollywood actors.  Vinay offered free Raptor tickets for a draw for people who would send him photos of a ticket for "The Grizzlies."
There was a  Mentor system set up to boost technical expertise for Inuit television programs.

The story had to be reduced to a script and two experienced writers were involved.  Moira Walley-Beckett had been a producer and writer for "Breaking Bad."  Graham Yost, son of tv personality Elway Yost (who I used to watch at Saturday Night at the Movies) involved as producer and writer for such films  as "Speed," "From the Earth to the Moon" and "The Pacific."

Background music was provided by Garth Stevenson who had composed for "Chappaquiddick" and has provided instrumental music for many movies.  Many indigenous musicians were heard in the movie.

Cinematography  was provided by Jim Denault who had done "Trumbo," "What Men Want," and "Freedom Writers."  One theme was that in Nunavut you "can see for miles."

Ben Schnetzer played the naive, but conscientious Russ Sheppard.  There was concern that it would appear the poor natives needed a white man to set them straight. In an early scene he confronts a student who knocks him down and is not charged.   In reality the real Russ was naive and frustrated that he kept making cultural mistakes.  Lacrosse was for him something that helped him maintain his sanity.  Many whites had not only failed before him but made the situation worse.  Ben, was an American who when he decided he wanted to act headed to Britain where he was able to get a lead role in "Pride" a movie where gays and union workers got together to fight for worker rights.  He played a German Jewish fugitive in "The Book Thief."  Also appeared in "Snowden."

Will Sasso played Mike, a fellow teacher and coach.  Will has played mostly supporting roles since 1991.  He was part of a winning ensemble cast for "Inside Moves."  At the end credits was a note that in reality Mike did not drink as much as depicted.

Tantoo Cardinal, who inspired my viewing actually was an activist in young adult hood.  She is a Metis,  part Cree and part French who felt strongly natives were not properly portrayed in films.   She had appeared in "Dances with Wolves" (1990), "Black Robe," (1991),  'Legends of the Fall" (1994), "Smoke Signals" (1998) and "A Thief of Time," all of which I enjoyed.   Having started in 1975 she has contributed a lot to indigenous roles in a wide variety of movies.  She has been awarded Order of Canada.  In this movie she played a very stern principal who shot down almost all Russ's ideas and chastised him for raising hopes.  Not very glamorous, but needed for its realism.

Ricky Marty-Pahtaykan played a non student with a family that deeply mistrusted whites and the school system, but was lured into the lacrosse program (including mandatory school attendance) and helped bring in others. Later it was his parents who swayed the school board into co-operating.  Paul Nutariaq played Zach who was rebellious, but in the school system helped bring more participants.  Anna Lambe played the girlfriend of one classmate who committed suicide and later she designed team logo and put a discrete, artistic and symbolic forehead tattoo on herself.  When asked about what she wants, she ends up playing on the team.  Emerald MacDonald played an overweight, shy young girl who is the most studious in the class and later gets involved with the team as a valued administrator.  We learn she lives in an abusive family, but learns to stand up for herself.

The real Russell Sheppard actually stayed in Kugluktuk for seven years and later taught in other locations and eventually became a lawyer in Cranbrook, British Columbia.  He retained a strong interest n lacrosse.  He consulted with the crew and even took a cameo role as a referee.

Expecting a juvenile film I was jolted right from the start.  Thought I knew a bit about the Inuit situation, but came to realize I don't.  Well worth watching.

Sunday, January 19, 2020


Malcolm Gladwell has built a career on studying the mundane facts of life and demonstrating there is more to them. In reality people make assumptions to cover most everyday activities, but often these assumptions are not correct.  

I had heard a radio interview with Malcolm in which he said he was optimistic.  Hopefully more people will better understand his books and give us better reasons to be optimistic.

He draws on scientific studies and illustrates points with well known news stories.  His first story is about Sandra Bland who in a well covered story went from a run in with police officer over relatively minor traffic offense to committing suicide in jail a few days later.   Cleverly the rest of his arguments explain what happened and why. 

After that we review the history behind Britain's Neville Chamberlain misreading Adolf Hitler after a few meetings.  At the same time those who did not meet with Hitler, such as Winston Churchill read Hitler's character more accurately.  Gladwell points out that most people prefer to believe what they are told until doubt mounts past a point of acceptance.  He recounts in detail the long trail to finally confront Jerry Sandusky with years of sexual abuse.

He gives the examples of Bernie Madoff and Amanda Knox to demonstrate how easily we can misread strangers.  Sometimes the guilty appear innocent, but also that the innocent can easily appear guilty.

Another big news story was Brock Turner being convicted of rape.  The circumstances were not unusual with Gladwell claiming it is normal for university students to go to parties to get drunk and meet strangers.  To compound the fact that humans have difficulty understanding a stranger is alcohol.  Gladwell adopts a relatively new theory called myopia theory that states that alcohol narrows our our emotional and mental vision.  This distorts the issue of consent.  Aside from the fact that a drunk person is not supposed to be able to give consent is the fact that most visitors to fraternity parties fully intend to get drunk.

Coupling is a concept that attaches two ideas together.  To illustrate he retells the story of Sylvia Plath's suicide.  She was subject to depression and had often talked of suicide expressing some concern with avoiding a mess.  At the time one very easy method of suicide was to use ovens with gas.  A few years later the gas connection was ended and it had been thought that if someone really wanted to kill themselves they would try another method, however when the gas connection ended suicides declined.  The point was the idea of suicide and the idea of using gas ovens were coupled and when one was ended the idea was stopped.  The Golden Gate Bridge presented further evidence when after many years a suicide barrier was implemented suicides declined.

Finishing where he started he re visits the Sandra Bland case and recognizes the problem wasn't that the police officer did not follow procedures, but that he did.  An earlier crime study  was misunderstood.  By meticulous research it was learned that an effective way to uncover drug and gun problems was to stop suspicious vehicles in suspicious neighborhoods, even on flimsy (but legal) excuses and question the driver.  It still amounted to finding a needle in a haystack, but narrows down the prospects.  Going beyond the narrow confines widens the prospects and invites problems.  Sandra Bland was not in a suspicious neighborhood and the police officer did not really understand her circumstances.

There are many incidents and studies to make his point . Gladwell is a master at connecting apparently unconnected ideas.

The best advice given by the author amounts to:  "The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility." We don't know everything about the context and should be wary of misreading what we see as signals.

Acknowledgments are insightful.  He recalled certain events involving his father during his discourse to illustrate different points.  His father (along with his mother) apparently had proofed his books, but had died with Malcolm's comment, "It is a lesser book without his contribution."


Geography does matter.  My house is located about a kilometer from Hamilton Harbour which is part of Burlington Bay and is really a western extension of Lake Ontario.  Going further from the lake or up the escarpment has slightly different weather.   It can be foolish to extrapolate experiences in one small unique area, but also foolish to ignore.

I am not exactly sure when the current snow season started, but it seems it was a little early when we got a dump of snow.  Very inconvenient for a short while and then we had our first meltdown including roads, sidewalks and lawns.  A bit later we had a second dump, but only a day or so later the meltdown started and soon all snow gone from roads, sidewalks and lawns.

Yesterday, January 18th we got another dump, but this one has been a little different.  After 10 cm of snow, the precipitation turned to rain, then overnite there was freezing meaning this morning sidewalks and roads were unusually slippery.  Ice is worse than snow, because it can be more slippery, but also because it is not always visible.  I feel safe to predict that by the end of this next week we will have another meltdown.

Several years ago Quebec suffered an ice storm.  My sister's family (south shore off Montreal) lost power and had to seek accommodation.  Driving towards Quebec several months later you could tell you were getting closer by the bent over trees.  The provincial government of Quebec learned a lesson moved much of their power structure underground.

As a youngster I grew up and shoveled a lot of snow, in Oshawa about two miles north of Lake Ontario and as a teenager moved about another two hour drive north to Haliburton.  The main difference I recall was that snow stayed on the ground an extra 1-2 weeks in Haliburton.  Always enjoyed a white Christmas and the only occasional problem with ice was at the spring margin.

Hooked up to media and reasonably educated we realize the rest of the world has different weather patterns.  Canadians who have enough money head south in winter to Florida or the Caribbean.  A few years ago I escaped a cold snowy Christmas by flying to New Zealand and because of Skype we were able to talk to relatives suffering back home.

Climate change is beyond comprehension for most of us.  We are learning about increases in forest fires and floods and also droughts in faraway places.  We read about ice melting in Greenland and the Antarctic.  We can dig deeper and learn about literally thousands of studies that indicate climate change is really climate crisis.

The problem is there are a host of other voices (maybe a little less these days) declaring that is very overblown and even a "hoax."  When we examine why this ignorance we learn that it is not just ignorance.  There literally is well over a trillion dollars worth of fossil fuels remaining to be extracted.  We learn that forests are being deliberately destroyed so that crop eating farm animals can expand.   The average person is struggling to keep up with their old expectations and are reluctant to change their habits.

A young, autistic Swedish girl has gained a platform and really represents the next generation.  Her message is getting harder for grownups with vested interests (most of us) to ignore.  There is a race to stem the tide towards disaster and we cannot be certain how it will turn out.  Perhaps it is better to assume we are in a house on fire and need to drop other priorities to give us a possible chance.

It is hard for me to believe that anyone anywhere is unaffected.  When our weather seems relatively normal it easy to learn of other places that are not.  Right now Australia is drawing a lot of attention, but also I learn there are serious floods in Africa.  Here I notice more ice and less snow--maybe a temporary aberration.

What can you do?  We are inundated with small things frequently and as much as possible need to adopt them.  We need to be informed and vocal.  Most important there are politicians at all levels who want power for a variety of reasons want to know what will tip your vote.  They need to know that if they want to get elected they NEED to pay attention to the Climate CRISIS.  Weigh their words and credibility like your future depends on it--it does.

My final word (at this time) is pay attention to what scientists are telling us and not the ones with  the most vested interests.

January 30,2020  As of this date most of the snowfall has disappeared and lawns, sidewalks and roads are over 90% snow free.  It did not happen quite the way I expected.  The temperature did go up to 1-3 degrees and there was a slow melt.  Before the weekend their was a lot of rain and that did most of the job.  Weather reports say there is a good chance we will snow within a few days.

February 10,2020   A fourth meltdown underway.  Patches of green visible--roads and sidewalks mostly clear.

February 19, 2020 Already starting a fifth meltdown.

March 6, 2020 well into a sixth meltdown.  This time rain is speeding up the process.  I would like to add these rapid weather changes help cause road potholes that cost money to both individual car owners and to municipalities. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Great Leveler: Violence and Inequaltiy

Barack Obama thought, rising inequality "is the defining challenge of our time."  The future is intertwined with several concerns, climate change, pollution, nuclear tensions, but underlying them all is a feeling that the average person has no impact.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer has long been a cliche, but like most cliches there is a base element.  Inequality is natural and if unchecked tends to increase.  Not all bad as the pursuit of wealth has motivated many to innovate and work harder to improve the lives of the rest of us.  Scheidel uses some of the material uncovered by Thomas Piketty, although does not agree with all his conclusions.

Using a wide range of information Scheidel uses the Gini Co-Efficient to compare different societies at different times.  Obviously there is a limit imposed by the lack of numerical data for much of what he studies.  He improvises with such things as burial goods, size of housing, prices of different commodities.  His conclusions do not suffer.

Violence has proved to be the most reliable leveler of inequality.  The author classifies what he called the "Four Horsemen" the factors that have leveled inequality:  1). mass mobilization warfare;  2). transformative revolution;  3). state failure and 4). lethal pandemics.

In the course of over 300 pages he recounts instances of these leveling factors.  Inequality first became a fact with the agricultural revolution which made possible specialization and the accumulation of surpluses that enabled some to increase wealth and power.  Before in a hunter foraging economy everyone was important for overall survival and although some people are more talented or hard working than others they could be kept in line.  Two tools enabling inequality were land/livestock ownership and the ability to transmit wealth to future generations.

Many minor events could have a very temporary effect on inequality, but it takes a massive event to really level inequality with some examples being World War II, the Black Plague (followed in quick succession with other pandemics), the Russian Revolution, European invasion of the Americas  and the American occupation of Japan.  Some major events actually increase inequality or the wealthy are replaced with other wealthy people.  In all cases inequality restarts significantly over time.

What about the future?  The author concludes that the four leveling factors will have less likely impact in the future, so it seems likely inequality will always be with us.  Modernisms work both ways.  Those in power have more tools to stay in power.   The masses of people have more effective communication and ability to organize. 

There have been many suggestions to rectify or moderate inequality.  Progressive taxation, estate taxes, wealth taxation, boosting unions, universal medical insurance.  Poorer people tend to vote less than their wealthier fellow citizens suggesting perhaps that education might make a difference.  There will be resistance and costs to any radical solutions.

An earlier blog gives the perspective of John Maynard Keynes who thought the only purpose of economics should  be that everyone could live better.  He understood about the pendulum of the ups and downs of the economy.

Although inequality has the advantage of offering incentives that generate innovation and hard work, there are disadvantages that become more evident as it becomes more extreme.  Number one is the inequality of opportunity that eventually hurts everyone when merit is secondary to connections.  Universal health care ensures that the poorest have an opportunity to receive preventive care that ensures the health of the rest.  A sense of fairness such as accepting that some people contribute more and deserve more is best achieved when the discrepancies are not too threatening.

My own thoughts on the inevitability of inequality.  If you took a random room of 100 people and were somehow able to redistribute the wealth to for example, $100,000 each, within minutes things would start to change.  Some would want to spend some to enjoy some of the things they had long wanted.  Others would see an opportunity to sell something, loan money so others could get what they want faster.  Some might be a bit fearful of the "rainy day" and keep their spending under (relative) control deferring gratification.  Some would steal from the others in the form of theft, intimidation, or fraud.  Of course some have more relevant talent than others.  It boils down to short term thinkers versus long term thinkers and yes a bit of luck, but essentially this has been our history.  

There is a lot of meat in the book provided by Walter Scheidel.  I found many of my thoughts debunked, but also gained a better understanding of the mechanisms that account for inequality.  The future is unpredictable, but many of the factors that will determine the life style of future generations are identified..

Confession.  I stumbled on this book because I had heard of a more recent book of the author, Walter Scheidel called "Escape from Rome."  Being cheap (and patient?) I just checked the library which had not yet ordered it, but had this other from the same author.  I have long concluded that there is more than one good book in any author and we often miss the early ones when they might have been more enthusiastic because they had not yet reached a tipping point.  I am on the look for "Escape from Rome" and for that matter other books by Walter Scheidel.

My most unusual way to make money

The number of ways to make money boggles the mind.  For several years while doing other things I sold customized lip balms as contra for radio airtime.  Hard to explain.  Once I got rolling it was the easiest of all jobs with the best payoff.  Contra in this case meant my employer got to run radio ads and the radio station got a cheap promotional tool.  And somehow I was credited with a cash commission.

Lipbalms are small tubes filled with relief from dry or sore lips.  There is not a lot of space for a message, but it is known that they are used a lot so the message is constantly seen.  As time went by there restrictions increased.  I remember dealing with the bilingual requirements that annoyed some prospects in Canada.  Artists designed the layout and were very helpful to me and my clients over the years.

When first given the task I wrote to well over 100 radio stations of all sizes across Canada.  I had asked my bosses if there was any limit and was told no.  I kept contacting prospects not knowing how hard it would be to find someone interested  The idea of getting a popular promotional item in exchange for air time appealed to a wide range of stations.  My only self-imposed restriction was to avoid stations in the same city, but until one agreed I would contact several.

Second year some restrictions were placed on me.  This forced me to be more selective and I received a few complaints of favoritism.

One deal was negotiated as one Toronto radio station was doing some promotional work to Jamaica where my call had been re-directed.

My wife worked for an orthodontist and had explained to me that lips dry out during the process.  Like many professions they had to compete for attention and this useful tool seemed logical.  I actually got discouraged because I had written to over 100 orthodontists across Canada  and then was fortunate that an association promoted my services.  Still I wasn't getting any orders.  Learned that another salesman in the office more than me had taken my calls when I was working elsewhere and managed some orders for his  benefit.  Eventually I picked up some of the slack.  This was satisfying because I felt I was helping people with an annoying problem.

Salesmen love it when somebody expresses interest "out of the blue," but of course there is usually some explanation.   One of the radio stations had an employee giving out lipbalms who noticed a more enthusiastic response.  Awhile later she had a job with Canadian Blood Services and while trying to figure out how they could get more blood donations remembered the response.  They already had the idea that although most Canadians are reluctant to donate blood they all are interested to know their blood type.  They developed a promotional slogan "what is your type?"  I ended up dealing with different provincial branches to string together an order.

Once took over an account of heli skiing company who really liked the product having bought several times from another sales rep, but the one sale I made to them was a disaster.  The product didn't perform as promised and I found the supplier claimed lab test proved it was ok.  The company returned a huge number of lip balms so I decided to try one myself and sure enough within a few days my lips were cracking and very sore.  Using another one of the company products my lips quickly were restored.  There was a big impasse with our supplier refusing to accept them.  Eventually the problem was resolved,  (I would like to credit Kate Albanese) but I was no longer involved with that supplier.

Unfortunately the original partnership between my employer and their client broke.  But since I was just selling their actual product I was able to continue for another six months, but by that time there were other problems and I lost this opportunity.

I identified a number of possible alternate suppliers but the one with the most encouraging response specialized in hemp lipbalms.  He sent some samples which because I was unusually busy I put aside.  He called me from Vancouver and requested me to open the package right away.  At first I was stunned and didn't recognize what the image was.  It was a caricature of myself (at top of this post) taken from the company website, done by Eric Patte.  I had disliked it, but soon felt it was my brand image.

He insisted I send a certified cheque by courier to help speed up the order  It went smoothly and for my second order I thought it would be cheaper and fast enough if I sent it through the mail.  As time sped by I became anxious and so did my new supplier and it turned out I had the wrong address.  That was not a problem for the courier, but apparently the post office wouldn't deliver.  After this experience I was put onto Pay Pal and everything went smoothly as far as payments and deliveries.

I was able to combine these efforts with other efforts and actually picked up some business making my calls in other cities where I usually concentrated on veterinarians and pet stores.  Interestingly traveling to Sydney, Nova Scotia I met one of my earlier radio station customers and they gave me a special gift.

Unfortunately the hemp supplier felt I wasn't selling enough and dismissed me.  I learned a few things.  Life is one big learning opportunity and below are some of job learning opportunities of my career. 
Another unusual job was on the other side of the counter:

Saturday, January 11, 2020


Iran has very recently acknowledged they did fire the missile that caused the Ukrainian airplane to crash and kill 176 people.  As a Canadian it was brought to my attention that 57 of my fellow citizens lost their lives along with Ukrainians, Iranians and other national citizens.  No American lives have reached my attention and it seems likely that with all the American sanctions it would not have been easy for them to depart from the Tehran airport.

The amount of misery derived from this one tragic mistake cannot be calculated.  A lot of people with a lot of potential (many were children, others students) and many already doing notable things to make the world better. 

To many it seems obvious that an Iranian pushed the button, ok'd the system that made such defensive action possible and someone forgot about the danger even if that was because such circumstances had never happened before.  Iran has admitted their error and will likely do something to ameliorate the damage.  Their reaction to the American provocation was almost knee jerk, if not surprising.  There were probably arguments about the best way to handle the delicate situation.  They knew they could not win a conventional war against the Americans, but if they didn't respond Americans would be encouraged to be more aggressive.  There were many "targets" and many commentators suggested Iran would likely take a long term view.  According to some reports there were no Americans killed or injured in the missile attacks at the military bases and that most likely was the aim--demonstrate Iranian capabilities without unnecessarily provoking American retaliation.

For a time it seemed that Americans were indeed recognizing that the Iranians had shown some restraint.  Nonetheless they continued their justification for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani and have added more economic sanctions against Iran and requested more co-operation from their allies.

Stepping back only a few days who is responsible for the decision to kill an Iranian military leader.   It was noticed that the American politicians, Trump and Pompeo used the word "terrorist" as it made their procedure more "legal."  Apparently the decision was made with classified information.  It may well be it is necessary to protect information sources, but there has been a lot of inconsistency, enough to offend some prominent Republicans.

 It may be no coincidence that Trump's efforts to dismiss impeachment have run into some obstacles.  He has been able to stop witnesses and withhold documents that might incriminate him further.  He realizes that although he might avoid even a Senate rebuke the whole process makes re-election more difficult.

As it happens he has assembled an advisory group that favors attacking Iran.  Trump himself identified the Iran Nuclear agreement as an election issue, declaring it an unacceptable deal.  It is true that many Americans would agree with him and it so happens that as he has aligned himself with both Israel and Saudi Arabia they would also argue against Iran.  It has been suggested by some (include me in this) that Trump felt slighted by Obama and wanted to undo anything Obama had been praised for.  Supposedly Mike Pompeo (with some evangelical connections) has long argued to attack Iran and had identified Soleimani as a target.  George Bush and Barrack Obama had both had Soleimani identified as an enemy but rejected assassination as not worth it.

Expect more efforts to justify the assassination.  No argument that Soleimani was a dangerous opponent and had done plenty of injury to American interests.  It should not have been a surprise that although he can be characterized as a "terrorist" other people saw him as a "freedom fighter."  He first got involved in military affairs when Iraq invaded Iran after their Revolution, quite likely with American encouragement.  Many would not accept the Iranian overthrow of the friendly Shah or that  Iranians would identify with other Shiites.

Americans can easily recall the hostage taking that ruined Jimmy Carter's re-election.  52 embassy staff were held against their wishes for 444 days.  It is hard to justify that, but most Americans are uninterested and unaware of the background.

You could go back to colonial times and learn that the Brits and to a lesser extent other Europeans and Americans had locked up Iranian oil resources.  An elected Iranian Prime Minister, Mohamed Mosaddeq decided it was time to get a better deal for Iran.  Britain asked for help from President Dwight Eisenhower and in 1953 the CIA arranged and participated in a coup that put the Shah  Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in power and later helped  (along with Israel) set up a secret police that was hated by citizens.  Unless one has lived under a system controlled by secret police it is difficult to understand how it must feel although we all say how much we love freedom.

One of the ways of bringing down a dictator has been through religious fundamentalists.  Another example is the role that Karol Wojyla (who later became Pope) played in the Polish resistance to Communism.  Many people hated the government, but it was very dangerous to express their resentment.  The Catholic faith attracted many followers and through the church were able to diminish the power of the government and eventually play a role in the downfall of the Soviet Empire.

Similarly the Iranians were restrained in their efforts for more freedom.  Like the Poles they found that a fundamentalist leader, in this case Ayatollah Khomeini exiled in Paris was the most effective focus.  He rallied the people against the Shah who was overthrown and fled for his life.  Jimmy Carter who had lessened some of the worst abuses felt obligated to to provide refuge and medical assistance.  America was seen as the one who instigated an oppressive government and protected an enemy of the people.  More details from an earlier post:

Students had been in important force in the Revolution and saw an opportunity to attack the Americans.  As I understand originally they just set out for a protest, but got carried away.  As a student many decades ago I could identify what we called "shit disturbers" upset with some university injustice and tried to dismiss a governor.

Americans have never forgiven the Iranians.  All American politicians have to be careful how they address Iran.  Obama recognized a concern for nuclear proliferation and one of the critical stress points was Iran, in the middle of the volatile Middle East.  A lot of westerners were concerned about all the warring factions that threatened energy security and of course Communist efforts to take over the world.  Iran as the major Shiite power surrounded by rival Sunnis was heavily involved.  They of course saw themselves as representing their national and religious interests.  Obama identified the nuclear danger--Iran was edging towards nuclear power which could include weaponization.  The fear was that if they got weapons, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as major Sunni powers would also want the bomb.  A neighbor, Pakistan already had the bomb and Libya, a Muslim nation had given it up.

Obama was supported by a number of other nations including allies and potential enemies saw a potential for global danger.  The powers with their own unique viewpoint agreed to unify to force Iran to pull back.  It was a long difficult process, but in the end an agreement was made and as usual with such agreements not everybody got all that they wanted.  One item that was crucial was the return of Iranian money that had been frozen after the hostage taking.  This has been interpreted as a bribe to get Iran to co-operate.  The notion has been debunked, but even today is still asserted as a crime of Obama's.

All I have done is set up a scenario for tension.  We all played a role in this tension.  Even self righteous bloggers like myself played a role.  Like others I drive a car, in my case an older relatively inefficient car.  Politicians in many nations realize there is much hatred (and ignorance) against Iran and many have had an impact on the situation.  Although most of us are concerned about issues closer to home they become part of a package that at least touches on Iran.  Canada has a unique role--at the time of the hostage takeover we were not considered a "Satan" and were able to rescue some of the American hostages (which most Canadians, myself included are proud of).  One of the effects of that role was breaking off diplomatic relations.

All this history and viewpoint is of small interest to the many grieving people left behind.  Many others feel self-righteous about who to blame--obviously the Iranian government and the Trump administration.  There will be legal and diplomatic maneuvering which will not satisfy everyone and is only cold comfort to the many grievers.  What I hope comes out of this tragedy is a better understanding.  We humans can't ever know all the background to any action or foresee all the consequences.  We can stop to ponder that in fact what we don't know is important.  Yes, we all have to make decisions and live with the consequences.  If this sounds weasely perhaps you are right, but let's be honest there isn't enough understanding in the world and we need it desperately if we are going to survive as a human race.   Unfortunately I anticipate there will be many more decisions made with disastrous consequences that most of us don't understand the connections (me included).

Sunday, January 5, 2020

War with Iran?

Anything could happen so my speculation can be outdated very fast.

My previous blog posts have pointed out that United States had orchestrated a coup removing an elected Iranian leader and then helped to set up a hated secret police.  Americans are certainly aware of the 1979 hostage taking after the Iranian Revolution and also of the "Death to America" chants and references to America as Satan.  Americans are programmed to hate Iran

Trump detected this hatred in his campaign and vehemently claimed that the Iran Nuclear Agreement was one of the worst ever negotiated.  Claims were made that Obama had paid Iran a huge amount of money to cement the deal ignoring the reality that it was merely returning money that had been confiscated plus interest.  The biggest concern was to limit nuclear proliferation and it was acknowledged that other concerns would stop the agreement.  Always catering to his base voters Trump ignored that Iran was honoring its part of the agreement and that it had been carefully negotiated with other countries that had their own interests and eventually declared the agreement void.  With the goal of cutting what he considered anti American efforts he increased sanctions  and coerced other nations to participate.

There are a range of criticisms regarding his disregard for international conventions.  Are all agreements subject to reversal at the whim of a new politician?  Is nuclear proliferation something that can controlled?  Can large nations bully smaller nations?   Are international alliances helpful for dealing with international problems?  To me most of Trump's efforts have been a step backward.  The world needs to co-operate to deal with global problems such as the climate crisis, pollution, refugees, nuclear war risks, etc.

Trump has attracted extreme loyalty from a minority of Americans, but has been able to manipulate the tools of gerrymandering, electoral college, corporate media, campaign finance laws, taxes, social media and maybe foreign interests to gain power.  Public opinion has been polarized.

The exact details that led to the decision to kill Qassem Soleimani may not ever be completely known.  There is a long history,   American politicians are characterizing Soleimani  as a terrorist.  He certainly has been responsible for probably the deaths of thousands, many of them innocent and many of them American.  Others would characterize him as a defender of Iranian and Shiite interests.

Was there imminent danger?  There can be little doubt that he was plotting to hurt America and Americans.   Perhaps he had discovered a way to deliver a nuclear bomb on Washington or New York?  If that is so, or even that he was planning to deliver any big blow quick action might have been required.  Why was there not more consultation?  Have the consequences (international in scope) been thought out? 

Americans or Trump might be naive if they feel they can insult Iran and apply pressure without any response from a people who are as proud as they are and who have technical expertise.

On the other hand, might there be other motivations at work?  It is true that from before Trump was elected there were people wanting to unseat him.  I confess I have thought he was a blowhard with a disgusting opinion of his own importance.  He has only reinforced my hostile opinion.  At the same time it is impossible to deny that large numbers of people who think he is their saviour.  We live in a time of immense inequality, of fear and ignorance and of the power of misinformation.

Trump, partly in ignorance and partly realizing his dependence on his base has done a number of outrageous things that have hurt Americans.  His supporters ignore the facts--he is not their saviour, but in fact has been very hurtful to their interests.  The impeachment efforts had been mostly sidelined and seemed destined to failure.  But lately more incriminating evidence has been brought out and the case of obstruction are gaining some traction.  There are also some people that believe Trump is fearful of appearing fearful.

He certainly has not built up credibility either with Americans or internationally.  There is certainly going to be emotions taking over American politics that I fear can push more polarization.  Emotional stability is needed.  Trump has boasted that he is the most stable negotiator ever--BUT he has not demonstrated that at all.  You can be sure patriotism will be demanded.  After spewing hatred in different directions, Trump will expect unity.

What will happen?  How soon will Iran retaliate?  Will impeachment proceedings slow down?  

Just wanted to vent before things get more confusing.

Previous blog with more details: