Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Juvenile Justice

We all make choices, but many of our most important choices were made when we were relatively inexperienced, in fact immature.  Justice is a sort of reckoning for decisions that harmed others and we have a fairly well developed system for dealing with youth crime.

Courtroom dramas are common enough, but is not too often we watch about young offenders.  The law everywhere treats them differently.  Victims and their families often feel treated unfairly with often the perpetrators getting scant punishment.  You are likely to notice some differences with Korea, but unfortunately you are also likely to notice some similarities.

Most of what juveniles do is petty such as shop lifting, but they can do more serious damage to society.  In the first episode we see a boy confessing to a murder and the body is stomach wrenching.  We learn (spoiler) that he didn't actually do the murder, but had befriended an older girl who knew that the boy could not be prosecuted for murder.  Pinning down the details was difficult.

Other crimes involved gang rape, prostitution and blackmail involving setting up adults.  Another major case was an organized cheating scam in a private school.  The cases were often too numerous and complicated with some characters wanting more study and others pushing to resolve.  Inter-twined were politics and personal ambitions.   The victims, more so than with adult crimes felt justice was not served/

 Information is scarce, perhaps because it is a new release.

 Directed by Jong-Chan Hong who also directed "Live Up to Your Name" (2017).  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/07/live-up-to-your-name.html

Written by Kim min-seok.

 Kim Hye-su plays a very stern judge, Shim Eun Seok whose personal history we learn towards the end.  A black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Hye-su is a much decorated actress.  Some of her films include:  "The Red Shoes" (2005), "The Thieves" (2012), "Signal" (2016) and "Hyena" (2020) in which she contributed to one of my biggest laughs in years.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/05/frequency-and-its-extended-korean-remake.html

Mu-Yeol Kim played a junior judge Chae Tae Joo, who often accompanied Shim Eun and especially at the beginning thought she was too harsh. 

Lee Sung-min played a top judge who later tried to enter politics.  A much awarded actor his films include ""The Good The Bad the Weird" (2008), "The Attorney" (2013) and "Misaeng" (2014).

Lee Jeong-eun played the judge, Na Geun Hee.   She is a much awarded actress and her films include"Mother" (2009), "The Attorney" (2013), "The Wailing" (2016), "Okja" (2017), "Parasite" (2019), "My Holo Love" (2020) and "Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha" (2021) .  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/09/parasite-breaks-oscar-tradition.html

 The evils of society are cyclical.  An abused youth leads to abusive parents.  Justice is elusive, but the attempt needs to be made to help mitigate the cycle.  This series covers much of the problem with an emphasis on the victims who are part of the cycle.  Worth paying attention to.

Available on Netflix in subtitled or dubbed formats.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Servant of the People Season One

Volodymyr Zelanskyy is the man of the hour.  Very few of us have been tested like him.  An unscrupulous tyrant is willing to kill him in order to fulfill a fantasy.  At the moment the tyrant is cornered and we all fear what he might do.

 We have been told that Zelenskyy was a comedian and it meant his election was a farce.  He was in the news awhile back when Donald Trump tried to force him to give damaging information of a presidential rival in exchange for critical military equipment.  It led to an impeachment effort that Trump was able to squirm out of.   

As with everyone else, Zelanskyy is a hero of mine and it seemed appropriate to check out this comedian's tv series when Netflix offered the opportunity.  A comedian is not expected to understand politics and be smart enough to get anything done.  Jon Stewart is a clever politician with strong ideas, however Zelanskyy was a Ukrainian and everyone knew they had a corrupt government.

Zelenskyy had done a number of tv shows before, but what had been overlooked was that he had actually earned a law degree.  After he graduated he became involved with television forming a production company, Kartal 95.  He did movies in Ukraine, Russia and even the United States. He produced, acted, directed and wrote.  He was the creator and producer of the show "Servant of the People," but is not listed as one of its writers.

Having said all that, what about the show?  It is entertaining with the main emphasis on satire.  The main character is a high school history teacher.  On an occasion where he was ranting about how corrupt and incompetent the government was a student videotaped it on a phone.  The tape went viral and supposedly with little effort from the teacher, he won the election and became the president.

He is smart, but a little naive and the prime minister strings him along.  Among the multitudinous staff there is a double as a security person.  Corruption is overwhelming and incompetence follows.  The incumbent wanted to re-do the election or a recount or an amendment, but the new president remembering how he persuaded an old teacher to resign was able to avoid a long procedure.  Being inexperienced the president accepts scripted questions and answers before casting them aside.  He avoids making promises he can't keep.

The country is in debt, but seems to borrow money which is funneled mostly to insiders causing the national debt to spiral.  Our hero although wanting to do the right thing gets sidetracked occasionally with alcohol and seductive women.  He hires his ex wife (but fires his sister) as she is trustworthy and they get along, except they both and their son thought they would argue too much if remarried.  His parents try to take advantage of their new prestige and complain when he has austere measures legislated.  He rejects most of pomp of his office, still living at home with his parents and sister.  At first he takes a bus to work, until convinced that a security chief he fired needed a job and became his driver/guard.

The episodes are short and hi-lite various problems and attempted solutions.  It would be hard not to laugh.  The corruption is over whelming.  In one episode, #17 in a drunken state Zelenskyy demonstrates why he won some dance contests.  As sidelines there are little sketches (only visible to the president and the audience) involving such historical figures as Abraham Lincoln, Che Guevara and Ivan the Terrible.  Louis XVI is brought in to explain how he tried to reform the tax code and do a rational budget but was met with the guillotine.

Naively I thought the language would be Ukrainian, but it is listed as Russian.  I remember that Russian is Zelenskyy's first language and that most of his films are in Russian, although he is fluent in Ukrainian and English.  Until 2014 kZelenskyy's production company had an office in Moscow and his films were broadcast in Russia.  For myself I was actually married in Ukrainian, but didn't understand any of that part and neither did my wife.  Ukrainian and Russian sound the same, but there are distinct.

They had to stop the show, because the fantasy had become a reality.  Zelenskyy announced his candidacy for president on December 31, 2018, preempting the incumbent president Poroshenko's New Year's Eve speech.  Adopted the name of the show for his newly formed party.  He easily won the first round of votes and with the second round garnered over 73% of the votes.   

He made several efforts to improve relations between Russian and Ukrainian speakers and tried to negotiate with Putin, but to no avail.  He started to clean up corruption and soon had to deal with the Covid 19 pandemic.  Oh yes, he had to deal with Donald Trump.

On February 24th, after the Winter Olympics, Putin officially started an invasion.  Zelinksyy had been offered asylum, but elected to stay in Kyiv.  A number of assassination attempts have been made, but he is still defiant.  He has made direct appeals to various government bodes.  To Canada and the United States he drew analogies to familiar landmarks.  To the British he used Churchillian phrases.  He is very articulate and has got the sympathy of the western world (and parts of Asia).  There is a fear if NATO escalates too much the invasion will become an international nuclear disaster.  It is a very delicate matter and one assumes Putin is using that fear to scare away as much interference as possible.

Nobody can be sure what will happen.  Many of us think what President Joe Biden said regarding Vladimir Putin is very appropriate, but by itself it could have consequences.  The world has a long way to go for justice to prevail.  I hope that Netflix makes the two following seasons available as I believe they will help us better appreciate Zelenskyy and be entertaining at the same time.

From from what I have been able to learn an apt comparison might be with Jon Stewart.  Jon was noted for biting satire.  

Check out the IMDB page including a trailer.  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6235122/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0 I would look forward to seeing the last two seasons when Netflix makes them available.

For an update check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/06/servant-of-people-final-episodes.html

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Chancellor Angela Merkel

Now that she has stepped down, Angela's story can be told.  We are used to flamboyant politicians.  Angela speaks quietly, but you better listen.  She hasn't been overly concerned with hair styles and fashion.  

Important facts include that her father was a Lutheran pastor (with a bias towards socialism) and he moved from West Germany to East Germany where Angela was raised.   From her father's church she became accustomed to being with disabled people.  She conformed to many Communist , requirements, but maintained independent thinking.  She learned Russian so well she won prizes for it including a trip to Moscow.  One quote that kept her going was from Marie Cure;  "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood."

Her education steered her to physics and she was good enough that her thesis was published in English.  As an adult living in East Berlin she first learned about the Holocaust.  Once in power one of her priorities was to protect Israel.  

When the Wall came down her interest switched from physics to politics and she was chosen by Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor recognizing her intelligence and needing a token East German and a woman.  When he ran into a minor scandal she turned on him, but soon after became leader of the party.  She was always very politically savvy and had established herself as trustworthy.  In 2005 she was elected chancellor which in Germany meant had to work with a coalition government.

Saw America as necessary for a peaceful world.  Enjoyed working with George W. Bush although did not support the Iraq invasion.  At first she distrusted Barrack Obama as she felt he was too flashy, but later realized he had substance.  An interesting commonality as they both read and enjoyed "Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/12/sapiens-brief-history-of-humankind.html

One contrast with Obama was attitudes towards Vladimir Putin.  Obama was fed up with his lies, but Angela felt she could persuade Putin to make small concessions.  Putin gave asylum to Edward Snowden and as a result uncovered many secrets including that the White House had tapped Merkel's cell phone.  This soured their relationship for awhile, but eventually political realities won out.  

When Putin attacked Crimea and Donetsk, Obama tired of dealing with Putin allowed Merkel to tackle the issues.  She talked to him 38 times usually in Russian, but also German (Putin was fluent).  He wouldn't bend very much, developing cyber warfare and social media disinformation.  Merkel forced Putin out of the G8.  

Anticipating having to deal with Donald Trump, Merkel did a lot of research.  She read a 1990 Playboy interview, "The Art of the Deal" and even watched a season of "The Apprentice."  Trump when asked what he would do in the White House, said "I'd throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country."  The two did not see eye to eye.  When Time magazine put a photo of Angela on the front cover declaring her "Person the Year," Trump had a fake version with himself as the Person of the Year blowing it up and put on display.  

With Obama gone she aligned herself with Emmanel Macron, the young progressive French leader who she found a bit flamboyant, but whose thinking was close to hers.  When the pandemic struck the two developed a European collective approach.  Merkel was pleased that one of the first vaccines was developed in Germany by two Turkish immigrants.

She believed it would be better for everyone if Europe could act collectively.  Very disappointed with Brexit as she felt the United Kingdom was critical for balancing the European Union.  A key factor in that decision was her policy for refugees.  At first she was against unlocking the immigration door, but a conversation with a 14 year old Palestinian girl converted her.  She felt letting in Syrians and other refugees was the moral thing to do, but also pointed out Germany was an aging and would need young immigrants to keep the economy moving forward.  Not without problems, but the refugees have assimilated well and set a good example for other nations.

Under Merkel the Germans phased out nuclear power and have worked on developing renewable energy. 

She outlasted Trump, but realized he left a legacy.    The January 6th insurrection was very troubling to her, but not as much as the big lie that so many accepted. 

Her style was to avoid confrontation and to talk not pontificate.  In 2020 the Pew Research Center declared Angela Merkel the most trusted leader in the world.  She was not want to get attention, just results.  Too bad more politicians have not adopted that style, but in reality it is the impressionable voters that are responsible.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Luzzu

A Maltese film was intriguing.  It turned out to be more interesting than thought when researching.  Malta is a small island closer to Africa than Europe, but nonetheless a member of the European Union.  The film won several festival awards and many other nominations.  Not aware of any streaming services offering this film, but as a festival winner you may well find as I did a copy at your local library.

 A way of life is being challenged.  Not all the facts are explained, but a small fisherman finds it very difficult to find enough fish to support his wife and son and to bring it to a crisis his boat which is like  family heirloom needs a repair.  His mother in law belittles him. and his wife Denise is worried  He learns of illegal fishing and although he is repulsed he ends up getting involved.

The modern world has imposed itself on all of us.  For a small fishing boat they have to compete against gigantic fishing vessels that gobble up huge amounts of fish for a hungry world.  Authorities notice that certain species of fish, such as swordfish are approaching extinction and need to be protected.  A problem for some is an oppoprtunity for others, even if they might be illegal.  Jesmark in the end decides to cast himself with the illegals.  One rationalization was that with global warming there would be no fish in twenty years.

Ship of Theseus is referred to at one point when Jesmark reflect that the boat he inherited from his father had had a long history of repair.  In effect it was no longer the original boat or was it?  Another film pondered this question and applied to transplants.  Check it out:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/ship-of-thesus.html

Alex Camilleri, director, writer, editor and producer is a Maltese, but now lives in New York City.  His first credit is as a sound editor for a short film in 2011.  He edited several shorts winning an award with the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.  In 2016 he was selected for Sundance Institute Editing Residency.  He also has directed, produced and written scripts.  He expressed the view that films like "Luzzu" can demonstrate that specific stories that can project the most universal of ideas and emotions that act through international boundaries.

There are 3 other producers.

Rebecca Asastasi got her start with "Troy" (2004) as a set production assistant for filming in Malta.  She was a production assistant for "Munich" (2005), "The Da Vinci Code" (2006), as prodution co-ordinator for "Agora" (2009), 8 episodes of "Game of Thrones" (2011) and "Kon-tiki" (2012).  Asked about how a small country like Malta could develop a film industry had some interesting points.  Like many small countries, Malta has theatres which mostly show foreign films and has noticed that other small countries tend to do the same.  Most of the foreign films are Hollywood which cater to a popularity which small countries cannot compete on budget or expertise.  What they can do is to promote a wider variety of films through film festivals so that the local populations can better appreciate a greater diversity.

Ramin Bahrani once caught the attention of Roger Ebert who declared him one of the best director of the 2000's.  Born in the United States with Iranian immigrant parents.  He studied film making in Iran and the Columbia Univesity School of the Arts where he later became Professor of Directing.  He has also been producer, director, writer and editor for such films as  "Chop Shop" (2007--which got Ebert's attention), "Goodbye Solo" (2008), "99 Homes" (2014) and "The White Tiger" (2021).  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/01/the-white-tiger.html

Oliver Mallia had been involved as producer, director and writer for a tv. series, "The Art of Malta" (2018).  He was also a production manager for "Agora" (2009) and a unit production manager for 6 episodes of "The Game of Thrones" (2011).  He is is a director for the Malta Film Commission.

Jon Natchez composed the music.  An American, he graduated from Harvard University with a major in cultural studies, music and performance in 1999.  He performed music for the "The Skeleton Twins" ((2014).  He has 17 credits for composing films.  In 2018 as a member of the War on Drugs won a Grammy Award.   

Leo Lefvre handled the cinematography which for him was his first experience filming on a boat.  He is French born and Belgian based.  Has done a lot of music videos.  Early in his career he was a camera assistant for "The Angels' Share" (2012) where he credits director Ken Loach advancing his film knowledge.

The lead actor Jesmark Scicluna, is an actual fisherman and previously trained as actor.  He won an acting award at the Sundance Film Festival for this role.  This was his first adventure in films, but has since been involved with American film "Untitled Project Icon

 Frida Cauchi played the mother-in-law.  She is fluent in Maltese, English and Italian and has played roles in each language.

Filip Sertic, a Croatian actor who played a fish dealer.  In addition to Croatian movies he has also appeared in English speaking roles. 

Many of the actors were untrained, but involved in the fishing trade to hell add authenticity.

Trying to understand the rest of the world is a never ending pursuit which means there are always new insights to uncover.  With this film, one realizes that not only are we all linked, but we each have much to teach each other.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Billion Dollar Code

Ideas are fluid.  The concept for a wheel seems pretty basic, but undoubtedly many different ancestors first noticed that round things go further than square or other rough shapes.  It may have taken a while before someone tried to figure out an axle and there may have been many different variations before we stumbled on what is familiar today.  Along the way the wheel expanded its use and we see a rotating circle with many mechanical applications.  The whole idea of rotation was tied up into other concepts.  We take it for granted and pity those who somehow were slow to using wheels.

 "The Billion Dollar Code" (2021) is a fictional account of a real legal battle that was lost by the German team.  They make a good case and will earn your sympathy.  After someone is able to develop an idea into something commercial, entrepreneurs and lawyers soon get involved.  This is not all bad as society needs to sort out inevitable disputes and to encourage other beneficial developments.

Two German men in Berlin pushed ahead attempting what was considered impossible.  Carsten is a bit of a computer geek who uses his talent for dance videos and stumbles on Juri who is more of a programmer.  They have a lot in common and enjoy each other company.  Juri has found a way to steal and hack use of computers much more expensive than he could afford.  Carsten is the salesman of the two and persuades some key investors to give them a chance to develop something new.

The something new is a program they call Terra Earth which really is ahead of its time.  On the computer you can point to anywhere and and get a close look at it.  They had limited resources, but at one stage they contacted Brian Anderson, the software engineer for Google and he was impressed.  Over the course of a few years they visited each other with Juri seemingly having a practical relationship exchanging ideas.

A few years later Google came out with Google Earth and a close examination revealed a very close copy of the original Terra Earth.  The focus of the series is a court case which takes up close to half the time.  It is in Delaware, United States, where many such corporate issues are resolved.

One of the interesting points was how Google makes money.  Google Earth is free, but allows Google to gather data and analyze it for advertising.  We are looking at hundreds of millions of dollars.  With this money at stake both sides hire very expensive lawyers and expert witnesses.  In the case of the Germans they are coached by a witness preparation expert.  This shows us some strategies to deal with the high priced lawyers with sophisticated questioning techniques. 

To be honest it seemed like an open and shut case and the script writer gave us an alternative ending that  seemed believable, but it is a German film.  In reality they lost the case which was shown at the end.  I don't pretend to understand the technical points, but it was a jury decision.  In the end one of the lawyers left by a driverless trolley car meant to demonstrate the future holds many developments.

The value of the movie is to understand that such disputes are easy to imagine when various parties discuss ideas.  We do need systems in place to adjudicate.  We also need systems to encourage collaborations.  Few ideas, if any come out of nowhere, although they may seem to.  At some point one person or group of persons take the action that brings something in fruition.   

Robert Thalheim was the director. and an executive producer  He has won European awards for tv. series.

Oliver Ziegenbalg was the writer for this most interesting script.

For each of the two main characters there were two actors to reflect a difference in age of decades.

Carsten as a young adult was played by Leonard Scheicher.  Another series he was in is  "Das Boot" (2018), which is a remake of a classic, "Das Boot" ((1981).

As a more mature man Carsten was playd by Mark Waschke who has been in numerous films and series including "Barbara" (2012), "Generation War" (2013) and "A Hidden Life" (2019).  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/10/generation-war.html

The young Juri was played by Marius Ahrendt while the older Juri played by Misel Maticevic

Lavinia Wilson played the lead lawyer for the Germans.  She is fluent in English, as her father is an American archaeologist.  She has performed over 60 mostly German films, winning European acting awards

Lukas Loughran played the American software boss, Brian Anderson is actually Swedish.  He has played in Swedish and English roles

Seumas F. Sargent played the second German lawyer althoug in born in America has performed around the world and is fluent in English and Dutch.  He was one of the Blue Men in the off Broadway production where he played the drums.  One film of his I have seen is from Finland, "Tom of Finland" ((2017).

I highly recommend this series currently available on Netflix for its very high professionalism and for the issues that will concern us more in the future.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Badhaai Do--an LGBT film from conservative India

 I admit I laughed a lot through the first part of this film, "Badhaai Do" on Netflix.  Towards the end it became more serious.  One character, Shadur was a gay policeman while the other, Sumi was a lesbian teacher who met when he was asked to scare off a man who wanted to blackmail her.  Once Shadur learned from the blackmailer that she was a lesbian he decided getting married to her  would solve a lot of problems.  She agreed and they soon got married.  Both had parents pressuring them into a traditional marriage and they each came up with excuses that they had tired of using. 

After they got married the pressure moved on to have a baby.  They both had formed attachments outside their marriage and were desperate to keep their secret, but sooner or later you know they would be outed.  The two were successful in fooling family for quite a while providing the viewer with lots of laughs. 

Then the laughing stopped as you realized both families were very upset, feeling they had perverts living among them and had been deceived.  The rest of the movie is a coming out process where they don't want to fool anyone, just to be true to themselves.  It is a bit uneasy to watch as there is lots of rejection.  Perhaps the ending (I left out a few details) is hard to believe, but comforting.

The director and main writer, Harshavardhan Kulkarni graduated with a degree in Petro-chemical engineering.  He is the son of an award winning Kannada poet.  For Canadians, Kannada has no connection to Canada, but is a language with a lot of speakers.  He broke into Bollywood in 2006 as a writer and producer for a tv. show, "The Chosen One."  From there he wrote and directed a few films.  He wrote, "Hasee Toh Phasee" (2014).

Aayush Agrawal provided the idea for the film.  He has had a career as producer, writer mostly with tv. series including one, "Human" (2022). Worked with Disney and Netflix.  Involved in animal welfare, mental health, and LGBTQI projects.

Tanishk Bagchi provided the music which was mostly joyful.    His films include, "Kapoor & Sons" (2016), "Badrinath Ki Dulhania" (2017), "Lucknow Central" (2017)

The cinematography was handled by Swapnil S. Sonawane.  He has filmed "Angry Indian Goddesses" (2015),  "Newton" and "Sacred Games" (2018-19), "Half Girlfriend" (2017), "Bareilly Ki Barfi" (2017),  "Shubh Mangal Savdhan" (2017), "Ittefaq" (2017), "Zero" (2018) and "Good Newwz" (2019).

The editing was done by Kirti Nakhwa as his second feature.  He won an award for a previous short film.

The casting was handled by Shiv Chauhan who worked with "Qarib Qarib Single" (2017) and "Stree" (2018).

Bhumi Pednekar plays Sumi the lesbian phys ed teacher.  First noticed in "Dum Laga Ke Haisha" (2015), an unusual romance where she played an overweight bride that had been arranged to solve a revenue problem.  She went onto a number of memorable films such as  "Toilet: Ek Prem Katha" (2017), "Shubh Mangal Savdhan" (2017)  and "Bala" (2019).   Having gained a lot of weight to get a role she lost a lot of weight to get other roles, but fortunately she is a very credible actress.        http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/05/a-feel-good-movie-little-off-beaten-path.html

Rajkummar Rao plays Inspector Shardul as a vain man, obsessed with body build.  He acted in two theatrical groups before heading to the films.  He has been on a streak of films including "Shaitan" (2011), "Shahid" (2012), "Talaash" (2012), "Kai Po Che" (2013), "Queen" (2013), "Hamari Adhuri Kahani" (2015), "Trapped" (2016), "Bareilly Ki Barfi" (2017), Stree" (2018), "Made in China" (2019), "Ludo" (2020) and "White Tiger" (2021).  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/01/the-white-tiger.html

Chum Darang plays Sumi's lover Rimjhim and works in a medical lab that collects samples which plays a role in the story.  This is only her second film.

Gushan Devaiah plays Guru, the partner for Shardul who breaks away after the marriage, but plays a role later on.  He started in films in 2010 and includes "Shaitan" (2011) and "RamLeela" (2013).

Movies are becoming more progressive in the world and in India.  Some adopt a humorous approach and others deadly serious.  "Badhaai Do" strikes a balance.  The presentation is professional and story like.  You will laugh, but you will also feel the angst of those who feel they must hide their true feelings.  

I have bolded the first mention of films I have seen.  These are well respected film makers.

Monday, March 14, 2022

2022 Beijing Paralympics

Apparently all the nations in the Olympics pledged not to engage in any military actions from seven days before the Olympics until 7 days after the Paralympics.  Putin had visited Xi  perhaps to shore up his invasion plans and assure Xi he would not cause problems for the Olympics, even helping to offset western countries snubbing the Opening Ceremonies.  However he thought the timing was better after the Olympics to invade Ukraine.  Part of the attack was based in Belorussia.

It seems to be unavoidable that innocent people suffer for the actions of their leaders.  Putin is a sports fan and likes to use sports as propaganda.  The rest of us feel helpless with the reckless behavior of Putin and perhaps feel guilty that we aren't willing to risk escalating the fight.  Ukraine given the honor of first team to enter the Birds Nest for the opening ceremonies.

 Anastasia Laletuna an Ukrainian athlete forced to leave competition when her soldier father was captured by Russians 

Classification based on degrees of amputation/paralysis while visua impairment has 3 classifications  Mixed events combine gender and also classifications.  Each sport had its own classification system.

Competitiveness is still uneven, but more nations are getting involved and upping training and coaching.  As competition standards rise the events become more entertaining. 

Para ice Hockey was more exciting than expected.  Lots of body checking and a fast pace.  One difference was that because the goalies were low to the ice, the best shots were over the head which was not practical for regular hockey.  As usual Canada's biggest rival was United States who did win the gold medal.   No women's version.

In all the ski events there were three versions.  One was standing and another was sitting where the athlete sat on a special seat.  The third was for visually impaired which required a guide.   Alpine skiing was very impressive with the athletes on a precarious edge to gain advantage.  In the relay events there was no baton, but put the incoming and outgoing skiers on different tracks so that when one passes a mark the other can begin.  Makes for a smoother transfer.  The artificial snow made

Never paid much attention to curling, but since tv coverage is dominant timewise was able to watch more than usual.   I came to appreciate judgment, strategy and skill and competition can be tense.  It took awhile to realize there was no one sweeping in front of the rock.  the curler starts from a stationary wheelchair, but are able to create a curl  and aim precisely.

Every athlete has a story of tragedy and hardship and it is inspiring at how they have over come their past and set an encouraging option for others.  A few examples follow.

The McKeever brothers used to do a lot of sports together, but when the younger Brian developed macular degeneration the older Robin decided to help carry on with Para skiing.  Robin decided to be a guide which he did for several years and later became a coach.  The guide has to be able to keep pace as well as be the eyes of the contestant.  Brian has won 16 gold medals and 20 in total (1 less than Chantal Peticlerc).

Tyler Turner survived a parachute mishap that required amputation of both legs.  He won gold in snowboard cross.

Mike Ideson had a helicopter accident that turned him to Para Curling.  In previous Paralympics he led Canada to a gold medal and this time around  bronze medal.

Oyuna Uranchimeg was a translater from Mongolia and had a very severe accident while visiting to Minnesota.  Her injury was so severe she felt it was better to get treatment while in the United States.  She wasn't reunited with her son for 8 years.  In the meantime became an American citizen and tried various sports until she discovered curling and was able to make the American team.

One of the broadcasters, Summer Mortimer turned out to be of local interest.  She was educated in Hamilton and even was a member of the Hamilton Wentworth Aquatic Club (as my daughter had done  and for which my wife and I had been volunteers).  She was a competitive swimmer and also with trampolining.  In the latter sport she had an accident that crushed both her feet.  She had to have serious surgery and spent several months recovering, but her ankles made it impractical for swim turns.  She instead turned to Para swimming and at the London Olympics won two gold medals.  A few years later she competed for her mother's country, Netherlands and won more honors setting records in the process.  She pursued some artistic pursuits (painting, singing and acting).  She was accepted as a sports commentator including the Beijing Olympics as well as the Paralympics.  She commented on the wide diversity of the disabled athletes 

Alan Parsons, the president of the International Paralympics Committee gave an impassioned and pointed speech at the Opening Ceremonies.  Later he had a CBC interview in which he pointed out that special efforts had been given for transportation and security.  He remembered giving out medals for an event where the Ukrainians won all three medals.  He pointed out that the purpose of the Paralympics is inclusion and peace.  After three Olympics/Paralympics in Asia (Korea, Japan and China) the next will be in Europe (Paris and Milano-Cortina).   There will be a meeting that will include a discussion of what to do with Russia and Belorussia.  The discussions to exclude them for the Paralympics had been drawn out with the decision finally resulting in expulsion. 

Technology was on full display for both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.  A pity the audience had to be sparse.

Surprised to learn that although Canadian Olympic medal winners get a cash bonus, the Canadian Paralympic medal winners do not.  The fund raising is done separately and there are more corporate sponsors for the Olympic winners.  Chantal Peticlerc, now a Canadian senator has raised this issue and hopefully it will be rectified.  It is good to see corporations supporting these games. There are plenty of corporate advertisers for the tv coverage of the Paralympics.  Both the United States Netherlands and Australia reward equally medal winners for both the Olympics and the Paralympics.  The Canadian Paralympic Committee had been given a sizeable government grant, but opted to invest in infrastructure and sending athletes to competition,

Television coverage was relatively sparse compared to the Olympics.  I imagine ratings had something to do with that.  The movement is doing the right things and it is likely the calibre and competitiveness will rise and earn a better share of attention.  As Alan Parsons pointed out the entertainment value is important, but the Paralympics serve a bigger purpose.   

The rest of us are starting to better accept disabled people.  Many of the commercials showed athletes, but also we were shown non athletic.  A ballet dancer with prosthetic leg.  Accessibility is an issue of concern. The athletes are proving many disabled people are capable to contributing to society and we all benefit when they are given the opportunity.  15% of the world is classed as disabled.  We are all better off as more people get closer to their potential. 

Check the 2020 Paralympics:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/09/2020-paralympics.html

Monday, March 7, 2022

The Narrow Corridor

The authors, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson contend that the pursuit of liberty takes us down a narrow corridor.  They use an analogy based on a book written during the English Civil War by Thomas Hobbes who felt a strong state, or "Leviathan" was necessary for liberty.  The authors agree, but it must be balanced by a strong society.  Otherwise what we get are such things as oppression, apathy, and corruption.  They use many examples of the problems to negotiate   The goal for liberty is a Shackled Leviathan which may seen a strange conception, but it is  well explained and carried on through the entire book.  This is perhaps the most serious, practical discussion of how societies and governments are organized to provide real liberty I have read in a long time.

Another part of their analogy is what they call the "Red Queen Effect" taken from Alice in Wonderland where there is a lot of activity that doesn't achieve anything.  But they use it to indicate activity that often does achieve something, specifically moving society from complacency to participatory and often somewhere in between.  What are considered "norms" are too often details that prevent real liberty.  One example was the tool of ostracism used in ancient Greece to improve life conditions.  The "Narrow Corridor" is that difficult part where liberty can be achieved if individual can push a Red Queen effect in the right direction.

John Locke is quoted, "Where there is no law there is no freedom."  On the other hand if the people do not control the state there is no freedom.  Justice is a key element.  Many leaders are chosen because they are able to mediate disputes.  A society that cannot resolve disputes is in effect fighting against itself. The book covers a wide range of nations and groups and how they fail or in a few cases succeed. in mastering the narrow corridor. 

Taxes are needed to provide services and help with inequality.  From another source it was pointed out that it can only work if wealthy people accept higher taxes and as we know there is much deception and political resistance that lessens liberty for the rest of the population.  The irony is that public services such as military, roads, etc benefit everyone.

Chile was an example of how a country could go off the right path.  They had large landlords who forced their workers to vote their preferred slate.  In 1958 Chile adopted secret ballots and started to open up.  Salvatore Allende was an avowed socialists who failed to get elected in 1952, but gradually improved his electoral standing until in 1970 with a coalition and support from a third party he became the president.  However his plans for land reform and other progressive steps upset the opposition.  Not only that, the American CIA became involved with financial support and advice (possibly more, but some of the records are still sealed) Allende was murdered and deposed allowing a dictator to take over.  It was their version of 9/11 taking place on September 11, 1973.  Eventually overturned which was nicely told in a movie, "No."

A little after this I was working for the Oakville Journal Record.  My department boss told me about the head of classified ads, Alan Lathrop who had befriended my boss.  I learned that Alan had come from Chile where he had been a journalist, good enough to have interviewed Charles de Gaulle, but had to flee after the assassination.

Another example is a contrast involving Costa Rica and Guatemala.  They both had been ruled by Spain and they both gained independence at about the same time and furthermore both had fertile land.  Costa Rica encouraged farming coffee with free land, allowing for many small farms.  They were very successful in their marketing and decided to do not build up their military eventually  discarding their army.  Instead their money was invested in education and have raised their literacy rates to the highest in Central America.  Baraulio Carrillo made key decisions in the 1830's and 1840's that enabled Costa Rica to negotiate the difficult narrow corridor that led to what the authors would label a Shackled Leviathan meaning a strong state and a participatory society.   Over the past several years they have drawn attention to themselves  as a a tourist destination with an uniquely uncommon strategy:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/02/overbooked-and-thoughts-on-tourism.html

Contrast that to their Central American neighbor Guatemala.  They opted for large landowners that kept wages down and the peasants with no real political power.  Several generations later I befriended the son of one large landowner and two of his siblings.  Hector was a good friend who I once hitch hiked from Guelph to North Bay with in the winter time and I feel confident has made a contribution to society mainly due to the fact that his father saw value in education and sent three of his children to Canada to get one.  Other friends who visited his family in Guatemala all emphasized how much overwhelming poverty struck them.

Another interesting, telling example was with Lagos, Nigeria.  They were noted for trash in the streets which was the result of an inept bureaucracy.  New leaders made a decision to appoint qualified people for government positions instead of political cronies.  They also adopted electronic tax payments which reduced  corruption by tax collectors and increased revenue to provide public services, notably trash, pickup but also lowered crime and improved the economy.

Sweden set up a welfare state during the 1930's Depression by coordinating business, agriculture, labor and other stake holders.  One early agreement was there would be no nationalizations which put business at ease.  All decisions that affected society were made after many consultations were made.  They learned that unemployment insurance and other government payments kept the economy going while unions did not press for heavy wage increases, but better working conditions.  

Another illustrative contrast was between the United States and Denmark over public attitudes regarding security surveillance.  When Edward Snowden revealed how much surveillance was used on American citizens he was denounced as a traitor while many people became upset over the invasion of their privacy.  The Danes were also made aware of similar surveillance, but were more accepting as their government had been more transparent about it and it was thought necessary to protect individuals.  The main difference was that the Danes trusted their government unlike Americans.

Yuval Noah Harari claimed that the world is headed to digital dictatorship if we don't take steps to stop it.  Daron and James are able to point on some counter trends, but we have to be on our guard. Yuval is one of my favorite thinkers:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/12/21-lessons-for-21st-century.html 

There are many concerns that society needs to encourage.  The authors suggest human rights and voter rights are critical.  Redistricting (gerrymandering) is a means of twarting voter's will and in some American jurisdictions is opening advocated.  When lobbyists have too much power they undercut what people really want.  Some thoughts on lobbyists:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/04/lobbyists-do-deserve-more-appreciation.html 

Money has too much power and needs to be drastically curtailed for many political jurisdictions.  Education is necessary to make good decisions and needs to be open.   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/11/education-and-our-future.html

The authors give many more historical examples of dynamics from different times and all the continents (except Antarctica) of how some societies were steered into dictatorships, poverty  and an unsatisfactory life.  On the other hand there are a few positive examples of how some societies were able to identify the narrow corridor and steer down it.  There are varying degrees of success and it is an ongoing battle to keep in the narrow corridor which is the balance between a strong state and a participatory society.

Identifying oneself as a stakeholder is a step towards building coalitions.  Shareholders, employees, consumers, neighbors, minorities all have a stake in the government and should have their concerns be respected.  They need freedom to organize and to see common interests.

To understand how we get or don't get personal liberty I would say  this book has more insights than I have encountered in a very long time.

The two men, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson had an earlier interesting book on its own merits, but served as useful research for this one.http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/11/why-nations-fail.html

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Icarus

 "Icarus" (2017) was recommended by Katelyn Burns and is available on Netflix.  Today we are amazed at how brazen Vladimir Putin can lie.  Attacking Ukraine is offensive to most of the world and to hear his distortions is very discouraging  But we should have learned that he cannot be trusted and here is an example.  

 The film starts about Lance Armstrong and at another point they refer to drugs in major league baseball, but the bulk is about Russian sports.

Bryan Fogel was interested in doping for sports and was able to contact Grigory Rodchenkov and over time earned his trust.  Grigory had been involved with the doping program in the Soviet Union.  For much of the film he seems very humorous and advises Bryan on how to dope himself.   I was not certain how serious the effort was, but it became serious as after more details Grigory was persuaded to tell the truth and then he felt compelled.

Richard Pound, a Canadian and former Olympian was selected to head up a Russian investigation. As Grigory explained the Russians (with his help) had developed a very elaborate system to circumvent the protocols of WADA  (world anti doping association) that had branches around the world.  There is no pussyfooting about it in that the trail leads directly to Vladimir Putin.  Putin established that Russian sports success was very important and authorized doping for all the athletes and methods to cover up.  His denials were matter of fact.

One of the strategies to find out about the bottles that Grigory pointed out had been swapped for clean urine examples was to check for minute signs of tampering of the bottles.  It turned out 100% had been tampered with.  The Russians apparently had all the athletes give clean urine samples that were store at a FSB (formerly KGB) building very near the on site lab in Sochi, Russia.

Grigory contended that doping started with the Vancouver Winter Olympics and was carried on to the London Olympics and of course to Sochi.  After Sochi the Russians were accused  and banned from competition.  However on appeal the IOC accepted a submission of 389 athletes from Russia and rejected only 111.  Russia won 56 medals.

After more investigations Russia was allowed to let their athletes compete under a different arrangement.  They are not allowed to have "Russia" on their uniforms, have their national anthem played for gold medal presentations

At the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics the Russians were caught with a 15 year old figure skater having tested positive.  She was impressive in her first performance helping a Russian team come first.  Later on in a single event she fell and it was interesting to note that her coach failed to give the weeping athlete comfort.  It was pointed out that Russia has been suspected to giving performance enhancing drugs to pre pubescent females that apparently have been unable to compete after puberty.

As Richard Pound pointed out the drug scandals will destroy spectator sports as no one will watch a fixed game or event.  Many year ago I recall reading one pundit suggesting we should just allow drugs and the events would match drug makers against each other.  That cynical view overlooks health risks that would most likely filter down to recreational levels as athletes looking for an edge.  

Grigory was criticized for his role in the doping efforts, but it was recognized that he was responsible for uncovering the crime.  The Russians called him a turncoat.  He was put in a Witness Protection Program, but his wife, children and sister had their passports taken away.  

The film is mind opening and worth viewing.Bryan Fogel was writer, director and producer.  He had a prominent role in presenting.  He even had himself injected with drugs.  The film won an Oscar for best documentary.  His next documentary, "The Dissident: (2020) was about the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.

Canadians (me included) were very excited when Ben Johnson won a gold medal in the 100 meter sprint during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but only a few days later he was humiliated and had to return the medal.  Most of us were ashamed.  Later we were told that likely all of the finalists had used doping. 

Sports are supposed to be good for health and can be exciting to watch.  Performance enhancing drugs should have no place in our world.

We should have learned that tyrants like Vladimir Putin cannot be trusted.  His denials of crimes have little credibility.  I am thinking of the poisonings of former Soviet spy in Salisbury, England.  Also one must wonder how much effort was put into electing Donald Trump and favoring Brexit.  My hope is that the world has learned something and can make a better, safer future for all of us.