Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Ancient Apocalypse

"Ancient Apocolypse" (2022) is fascinating for sure, but how much of it is realistic?  Graham Hancock has quite the reputation for defying established science.  He even disavows he is a scientist, preferring instead the moniker of an investigative journalist.  I suspect the scientists he denigrates are not as reluctant to explore new possibilities as he implies.  Having said all that, the material is fascinating and provokes many questions.

The title although scary is even more strange--Apocalypse is normally referred to as a future possible event. Graham leads us to his theory that a higher civilization existed before the Ice Age and were destroyed.  He presents a lot of evidence that he ties together with some interesting speculation.

 I recall that the story of Pompeii was ridiculed until it started to be uncovered.

Historical memory is heavily dependent on written records (and archaeology).  Trained archaeologists demand more evidence than Graham can produce.  We are taken to old megalithic structures in such places as Indonesia, Malta, Mexico and Turkey.  There are apparently a number of commonalities to them, but there are no written records.  Some of the architecture lines up with astronomical signs (with sun and/or stars).  They involved the movement of very heavy stones.  A lot of symbolism is carved in stones.

In Cholulu, Mexico the Spaniards had massacred all the inhabitants.  There is a pyramid that Graham claims hides earlier structures.  A Canadian archaeologist/anthropologist from U. of Calgary Dr. Geoffrey McCafferty says the structure was likely built over period of a thousand years.   Common elements with the pyramids of Indonesia (and Egypt) are over sacred springs  and contain hidden passages

The Ice Age ended about 12,800 years ago and resulted in massive increase in water levels that cut off many land bridges while creating many islands.   It is further speculated that there have been a catastrophic  comet that created a lot of damage, but also led to massive floods.

In his section on Malta which at time was linked to Sicily, Graham suggests it might have been Neanderthals  that crossed over.  There is no further mention of the Neanderthals, but is it possible they were the masterminds of at least the Malta megaliths?  They did disappear somewhere around the Ice Age and some humans carry some Neanderthal genes.

Near the island of Bimini just off the coast of Miami  are signs of a much earlier civilization hidden by water.  Apparently Plato wrote about Atlantis, but nobody has found any trace of it.  Graham speculates that it may have existed near the Bahamas.  They may have disappeared after a catastrophic event.  Graham further speculates as a warning to us that the people living there were too arrogant to pay attention to signs of a disaster.

His last location is known as Poverty Point which he is forbidden to film as the authorities state they do not want to be associated with his speculations.  Using aerial photography and talks with others he speculates that like with the other sites it contains snake symbols. Graham then reminds us there were many serpent symbols at the other megaliths.  He then speculates that all the sites seemed concerned with astronomy perhaps because the most catastrophic event might have been a comet that can be interpreted like a snake.  Furthermore if it was a comet or asteroids it would explain the interest in astronomy.  Again more speculation that the different sites and possibly more had communication with one another.

There are many facts, but even more speculation.  There has to be some explanation for the facts.  If you look at the facts you are apt to do your own speculation and it might be fun, but don't confuse speculation for a true explanation.

Carl Feagans, an archaeologist has been quoted, "Every single archaeologist I know would be elated to discover any previously unknown civilization of the Ice Age or any other for that matter."  I would not say Graham's theory is preposterous, but not likely true in all his details.  We still have much to learn.

Who do you believe? Experts are not always right, but they have a good record and don't like to guess.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/07/expertise-too-often-shunted-aside.html

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Russian conundrum

My memory let me down.  I was under the impression Mikhail Khodorkovsky had been a long time friend of Putin and fell out of favor.  In fact he was a successful businessman who offended Putin after a few years of giving advice.  Mikhail was a leading advocate for western business practices and philanthropy.

As he recounts the perfidy of Putin while extolling his own virtues one hesitates a little as to who is telling the truth.  But there can be little doubt about who has almost no credibility--Putin.  It is too bad that more people didn't heed the words of Khodorkovsky decades ago and perhaps there would have been no need for this book.  His perspective and opinions would serve western powers better than currently.

Khodorkovsky did not have wealthy parents, but he got a good education.   His academic interest was chemistry.  Some bankers liked him and helped him to get access to foreign currencies through bigger banks.  This allowed him to put together a group that took over a heavily indebted state company, Yukos that had not been able to pay its employees.  With better business practices modeled on western practices the company was straightened out.  With good timing it rose to be the largest tax payer in Russia and Mikhail to be the richest man in the country.

Along the way Khodorkovsky was strongly advocating western business practices and democratic systems.  He had many times been called to advise Putin, but too much criticism of the Russian way was too much and Khodorkovsky was eventually charged with spurious crimes and spent over 10 years in prison, mostly in a remote area. 

In 2013 he was released to England where at first he thought things were progressing in Russia, but soon felt otherwise.  Watching the BBC to improve his English he was struck that the rest of the world depicted Russia quite different than what he was familiar with.  It was also quite noticeable that all Western governments were criticized.

A pro Moscow government in Ukraine was ousted and Russia was determined to assert itself.  In 2014 Mikhail flew to Kiev and spoke at Maidan Square so support Ukrainians and later to Donbas.  He had set up an advocacy group, Open Russia promoting democracy running unopposed outside Russia but over the years repressed in the country.

Putin is deceptive, saying whatever his audience will accept.   Putin's rationalization in a quote:  " A strong state is not an anomaly to be got rid of.  Quite the contrary, it is the source of order."

Putin is motivated in large part by domestic politics. The economy is poorly managed and  Putin has found foreign aggression raises his popularity.  He manipulated elections and when he constitution restricted him to two terms he used Dmitry Mededev as a front man and then rewrote the constituion.

A key person in Putin's setup is Yevgeny Prigozhin who started as a food vendor in St. Petersburg and came to the attention of Putin.  Not put off by his gangster reputation and prison history,   He came with Putin to Moscow and was tasked with organizing a mercenary group that is officially denied.  They seem to appear at various hot spots such as Crimea, Syria, Libya, Georgia, and Central African Republic.  Prigozhin was put in charge of interfering in the American Election of 2016 which involved projects in 2014.  Many of the Russian efforts involved social media.  Robert Mueller correctly identified Prigozhin's role which ended in a sanction.  

They did not at first expect Trump to win, but wanted to tarnish America's image.  They  complained against immigration "failures" Black Lives Matter, Muslims.  A favorite strategy was to suggest voter fraud.  They did hack some Democrat emails to hurt Hillary Clinton..  

Khodorkovsky noted that the Mueller Report was very accurate regarding Russian efforts at the 2016 election.  Trump went so far as to fire the FBI director among other efforts to stop the report.

Russia uses poisons with a lab specializing in the nuances.  We know they have been used on dissidents as well as former agents, but it is possible we don't know all of the victims.  Alexei Navalny, a popular dissident was poisoned twice and saved only by alert doctors and others willing to bend protocols.

Like Michael Cohen, Mikhail believed that Putin did not necessarily have some kind of information on Trump who he thought just admired the stealth of the Russian leader.  But perhaps there was some sort of hold--check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/06/house-of-trump-house-of-putin.html

After Joe Biden took over the presidency Putin did not let up.  The January 6th insurrection demonstrated American hypocrisy.            

The Russians are credited with cyber attacks against American corporations with ransomware and also the Joe Biden administration.

Moldova was a small country bordering south of Ukraine.  During most of its existence it had a pro Moscow government.  A few years ago that government was replaced and when Russia invaded Ukraine Moldova supported Ukraine.  Russia had already started supporting an opposition party.  Putin also props up the autocratic Belorussian government and although not able to get them to attack Ukraine, have been using their territory for launching missiles.

Russia has long used China as an ally to frighten America, but Russia no longer has the leverage over China that it once had.  Noteworthy Putin visited China during the Winter Olympics to shore up support and actually started the invasion during the Winter Paralympics against protocol.  China has tried to stay out of it.

His advice is worth considering.  He notes that the sanctions used are often depicted as against the Russian people and feels sanctions need to be specifically against members of the administration.  Courage is needed to stand up to abusive government behavior.  With Open Russia, Mikhail supports opposition publications and tries to educate journalists.  He feels confident Putin will eventually be gone as he makes too many mistakes.  There may well be an heir, but likely a crisis will depose of them.  

Quote from the author:  "...a new society cannot be built with anger and revenge" and "...forgiveness is dearer than punishment."

How do you think we should deal with Putin?

An example of Russia fitting in with the rest of the world with my most recent post:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/11/compartment-number-6.html

Friday, November 25, 2022

Compartment Number 6

 "Compartment Number 6" (2021) won the Grand Prix, plus a special mention for the director at Cannes.  It was supported  by agencies of Finland, Russia and Estonia.  Written and directed by a Finn with the leading actress also a Finn. as were some of the crew  All the filming was done in Russia with most of the dialogue in Russian.  Although the plot maintains it is about a a train trip it actually is filmed in St. Petersburg with the final parts done in Murmansk, like the Oscar winner "Leviathan." (2014).  I watched the DVD version picked up in my local library.

 The basic story is a train trip from Moscow to Murmansk on the Arctic Ocean.  Laura, visiting from Finland was planning to travel to Murmansk with her girlfriend Irina.  The purpose was to view and study the Petroglphs from an ancient civilization.   Irina backed out and Laura decided to go it alone.  They had booked a sleeping compartment that would sleep four people, but Laura found herself having to bunk with a repulsive man.  Ljoha who asks why she is going and is at first mystified about Petroglphs and then dismissed it.  He asked her another set of questions that were so crude Laura left to find anoher bunk and not succeeding, actually left the train before rethinking and returning.

Most of us recognize this scenario as a setup for a romance.  Well, I don't want to spoil it, but there was one factor not to  be dismissed; that being her sleeping with her girlfriend in the early part of the film.

 There is a stopover on the way and we meet an older woman who counsels that women are smarter than men.  Eventually they reach Murmansk, but Laura soon learns that the Petroglphs are not accessible during the winter.  She checks out a few other sites and eventually checks the mining site where Ljoha got a job, but they parted in a very awkward manner.  You've got most of the plot, but it is done much better than you might expect.

The Cannes Festival judges are careful in their choices.  Check out some of the cast and crew.

Based on a novel by Rosa Liksom which won a national Finnish literature award.  She has had 7 previous film credits.

Juho Kuosmanen wrote and directed the script.  In 2010 his graduation film was given an award at Cannes.  In 2016, his "The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki" also received an award at Cannes.  Juho has also directed an opera.  Recently he took in refugees from Kharkiv, Ukraine.

 Natalya Drozd was a Russian co-producer, but has left the country as she has been a Putin critic.

 Cinematographer  Jani-Petteri-Pussi  has film credits including "The Painting Seller" (2010), "The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki" (2016) and "Chernobyl 2019).  St. Petersburg substitutes for the Moscow of the plot because of Covid restrictions.   Most of the filming was done in th dark and a good portion was done from the inside of a moving train.  Originally it was intended that the film would be processed in Hungary, but due to Covid restrictions that was not available.  Instead the film was smuggled into Finland.  The results are impressive.

One of the hi-lites for me was the use of a French song, "Voyage, voyage" by Desireless.  It had reached the top of music charts in several nations.  It is played for the end credit and if you like pop music you should stick around.

Jussi Rautaniemi won a national award for his editing on this film.  Previously had won with three previous films.  He enjoys editing documentaries, fiction and movie trailers. 

Yuriy Borisov plays the very obnoxious Ljoha who later becomes a little more likeable.  His performance resulted in a few festival awards.  In 2020 he had been declared Actor of the Year.

Seidi Haarla plays the female train traveler.  She was born in a Finnish theatrical family.  She studied acting in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Has appeared in numerous Finnish films and tv. series.

Finland has an awkward relationship with Russia and recently applied for a NATO membership to protect themselves.  This film is not anti-Russian and apparently met with audience approval when shown there.  "Compartment Number 6" does represent a hopeful collaboration which hopefully will be restored in better times.

As usual I have bolded the first mention of films I have seen.

In addition to my usual IMDB and Wikipedia information I also gained some info from The Guardian.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Dhokha

After watching this movie "Dokha" (2022) I am not totally sure who did the killing.  None of the four main characters are entirely trustworthy. 

 Films love to present more than one perspective on an event and this one has 4 perspectives.  The best example from Japan by the master Akiro Kurosawa example  "Roshomon" (1950) offered 7 different perspectives on a murder.  

One of the characters is delusional and we are never quite sure how much is real., how much fake and how much might be induced.  A cheating husband or is he?  A terrorist who claims he is not.  A cop who might be corrupt or incompetent.

What makes this one work is the cast and crew.

Dharmendra Sharma was one of the producers and also editor which is more of his background.  As editor he had done "Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge" (2010), "Shivaay" (2016) and "The Big Bull" (2021).

Kookie Gulati was director and writer.  He started with music videos

Amar Mohile, composed the music.  Like others he was a musician for many of his early movies, including "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" (1994) and "Mohabbatein"(2000).  He went on to compose for 128 films including "Shaitan" (2011) and "Jolly LLB" (2017).

Amit Roy was the cinematographer.  His film credits include "Nishabd" (2007), "Sarkar Raj" (2008) and "She" (2020-22).

Madhavan plays Yathaarth the husband who is accused of having an affair with his wife's psychiatrist.-- At age 18 his college entrusted him to as cultural ambassador to Canada representing India.  He had won national public speaking awards and is fluent in English, Hindi and Tamil.  He has appeared in such other films as "Rang de Basanti" (2006), "Guru" (2007) and "3 Idiots" (2009) which were all exceptional movies.   Another film was the American, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2012).  My first awareness of him was with "Kannathil Mutthamthal" (A Peck on the Cheek) (2002), but I assumed it was a Bollywood film and much later learned it was a Tamil film, opening another door for me.           

Khushali Kumar played Saanichi.  She was portrayed as delusional and she certainly was pretty flighty.  She grew up in a Bollywood music family and got her beginning with music videos.  She graduated from  NIFT as a fashion designer and has created designs for the likes of Shakira and Justin Bieber.

Aparshakti Khurana plays an escaped terrorist.  Did not realize my most blogged Bollywood star, Ayushmann Khurana had a brother.  But Aparshakti stands on his own.  Early films include "Dangal" (2016) and "Stree" (2018).

Darshan Kumaar plays a cop who may be incompetent or corrupt.  Has appeared in "Ashoka" (2001) "Mary Kom" (2014), and "NH 10" (2015).

It is very hard to be truly unique as most of the twists have been tried.  This film is well directed, written, edited and acted.  If you like thrillers you will enjoy this one.

I have bolded films I have seen for the first mention.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

A Primer for the Tibetan Book of the Dead

Bruno Portier" wanted to make the "Tibetan Book of the Dead" more relevant and so with "The Flawless Place Between" (2012) constructed a story to illustrate it so that we could be less afraid of dying.  It was recommended to me by Vijayakumar Mk Nair who has a history of suggesting satisfying books.

 In an explanatory chapter we are given a quote by Blaise Pascal (1623-62):  "Mankind, having failed to remedy death, misery and ignorance, resolved for the sake of its happiness, never to think about them."

The author offers a perspective,.  We like to say that someone died in peace, but might it not be better to anticipate it?  "Imagining our own death as imminent  obliges us to take stock of ourselves, of our choices and actions."

In the story we are introduced to a couple, Evan and Ann who are about to embark on a trip.  Her parents are there to say goodbye and have Ann's young daughter.  In India they head towards the Himalayas, but unfortunately have an accident.   Ann is on the verge of dying when an old Tibetan man crosses them.  At the same time Evan is badly injured, but wants to contact a hospital as soon as possible.  The old man sees the situation differently.

The old man recognizes Ann is dying.  He helps guide her to the other side.  While urging her to detach from earthly concerns he performs strange rituals such as burning all her clothes and other belongings leaving her naked.  He assures her that although she will be confronted with many images she need not be afraid.

Her husband Evan, suffering from a broken leg and shock is mystified and annoyed.  The old man who introduces himself as Tseopel.  There is a language barrier, but Tseopel explains a process of detachment and choices to be made by the dead person.  He does attend to the needs of Evan. 

Reincarnation as we Westerners understand it provides a justice.  What you do in this life dictates how you will be reincarnated.  Tibetans understand it a little differently.  They see the object as not so much to gain a happier reincarnation as to free yourself from suffering.  As a footnote, the author explains a  bit about a unique being.  "Bhodhisattvas are beings who, having attained enlightenment, choose not to escape the cycle of rebirth in order to help all beings achieve enlightenment."

The Dalai Lama is the most well known Tibetan in the world.  There is a short reference to him to perhaps help appreciate the Tibetan culture.  Some powerful people are waiting for him to die so they can replace him with someone more politically supportive of their unfriendly agenda.  One thing I remember about the Dalai Lama, is that despite other religious leaders avoiding science, he welcomes it with a good example being experiments he has participated in regarding meditation.  Another thing that I have tried to adopt is his frequent laughing--life is serious as no one better understands than him, but the ability to put things in their place by laughing is a healthy way to live.

You might not expect sexual references in a book about death, but the Tibetans recognized sex is a crucial part of life.

In my title I just wanted to indicate that this book will help you become aware of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but is only an introduction to the concept.  The author lists several books that will give deeper explanation.  

Another blog about the subject of death is:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/09/would-you-rather-be-burnt-mummified-or.html

Friday, November 18, 2022

In the Shadow of the Sword

The books of Tom Holland had been recommended and I checked the local library and was able to pick up "In The Shadow of the Sword" (2012).  With family and personal connections to Muslims, it was of interest.  The cover indicated a history of the Muslim conquests of new land, but that was a bit misleading.  In reality it has turned out to be more comprehensive and less to the point.

 The author seems to believe that religions are mostly humanly constructed with political ties which for me is easy enough to believe.  The first part of the book discusses the origins of Islam, Jewish, Christianity and surprisingly Zorastrianism.  They are all related and the author relates the human dynamics involved.  An earlier blog was concerned with the growth of Christianity:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/08/the-triumph-of-christianity-history.html

 Arabs were thought of as nomads and pagans, lived in tents and were fierce in battle.  They were traders including slaves.  Grew frankincense in Yemen that once had been in demand in the western world. Basically not civilized like the Greeks, Romans or Jews.

Like with the New Testament, the Qur'an was written long after the events it depicts.  Holland points out that after Constantine had converted to Christianity, later Roman leaders felt it was in their interest to convert their subjects and especially new conquests. 

The Middle East was intertwined.  The Jews had been enslaved in Mesopotamia as well as Egypt.  Islam accepted religious customs of others.  From Zorasterianism they adopted the idea of stoning for adultery, prayers 5 times a day,,execution of apostates and that a toothbrush was a sign of piety.   I am reminded that Jesus was credited with saying "let him who is without sin cast the first stone."  From the Jews they adopted circumcision and dietary restrictions.  They accepted Jesus as a religious predecessor, but not the son of God.

Holland points out that Islamic scholars added in unrecorded revelations, first attribute to other scholars, then to companions of the Prophet and then to the Prophet himself.  Jewish scholars who have rules for every aspect of life many of which are not mentioned in the Old Testament.

Interesting facts uncovered:  Chariot racing inspired gang warfare among fans.  Bishops were instituted to oversee money and over time gained more authority.   Arabs were called Saracen and were the only barbarians mentioned in the Old Testament.  During the plagues labourers were able to command higher wages and (similar to today) helped fuel inflation.  Byzantium was ideally located except for a lack of water, but that was remedied by Roman engineers (but I had read that the Etruscans were the ones who taught engineering to the Romans including the famous Roman arch).

The author has written books on Persia, Rome and Christianity and some of that research has made its way into this book.  As is reality they are all connected and we cannot really understand one subject area until we understand the context.

Quote from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegal:  "Once the world of ideas has been transformed, reality cannot hold out for long."

This book is heavy reading with lots of information linking at least the four culures of Jews, Romans, Christians, Zorastrians, and Muslims.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The American Midterms: We live in Anxious times

The American midterms are not quite over and there could yet be significant changes.  Partly because of procedure changes and personal preferences the more prolific mail votes need to be verified more carefully (and slowly).  The final tally will not be available until at least December 9th.  

We were set up for a red wave, but fortunately enough rational people made wiser choices.  There will be Republican obstructionism ramped up, but not unified.  Enough voters rejected bullying, extremism and the lack of real Republican solutions that Democrats are able to maintain some power.  Many voters understood inflation is a problem, but could see that it was not entirely Biden's fault.  The pandemic left a lot of hard feelings and ongoing problems, but some realized the Trump administration was more responsible.  Still it must be admitted that the popular vote for Republicans was millions more than for Democrats which to me reflects poorly on national intelligence.

Apparently the Democrats will control the Senate (even without Georgia).  The House is unsure as of this post, but very likely Republican with a small margin.  This means the Democrats will be able to appoint judges and cabinet ministers without Republican support.  The filibuster will still restrict legislation.  The House will be able to block legislation that does not meet Republican requirements.

It is likely that the Republicans will be argumentative among themselves and with a tight margin the absence of a few members could be decisive. 

My bias is that climate change needs to be the priority.  Yes the economy is critical to getting through the week.  The threat of nuclear war can not be ignored.  Autocracy is taking over huge chunks of the world. Inequality is increasing.  Violence around the world seems to be increasing.  The pandemic and fear of future ones are likely to be a leveler.   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/01/the-great-leveler-violence-and.html  There are a lot of grounds to be anxious.

Al Gore pointed out that we need to fix democracy before we can fix the climate while some citizens seem to feel a need for an authoritarian.    

Donald Trump was a braggart, a blamer and most of all a LIAR.   He should have been kept out of it, but couldn't resist for his own ambitions, ego and perhaps fear of legal issues.  Fortunately he didn't stay out of it and triggered some rational thinking, but perhaps is still part of the stirring pot.

How does one sort out all the problems and how do we make decisions to make things better?  

Politicians cannot do anything until they get elected.  The successful ones are smart to get attention and funnel their concerns.  The smart voters study the issues and take a long term view.

People have short memories.  It was only a very few years ago that people were dying in large numbers messing up things for those who survived.  Large numbers of people were shocked and desperate while others were outraged at they were inconvenienced and  hurt by these unexpected circumstances.  Net response for many was resistance to advice guaranteed a messy situation that soon metastasized to global economic problems and consequently social.  The adjustments are continuing and most of us do not really understand the dangers.

Scientists understand better what we are up against and what might work.  It is too bad that humans have come to discount so called experts.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/07/expertise-too-often-shunted-aside.html

If climate change is not dealt with we can expect more economic problems.  Insurance  companies are hard nosed and they are raising rates.  Still most people are unconcerned until climate disasters hit closer to home.  Bear in mind that large groups of people do not share a concern for climate change and to date are easily convinced other things such as the economy are more critical.  Or social concerns such as gay marriages, Critical Race Theory and abortion are priortized.

Georgia uses 50% plus 1 criteria. which is a fairer way--losers can better accept the will of the majority check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/03/two-round-elections-food-for-thought.html.  Other states use a ranked system to determine who gets elected.

Americans rejected superior candidates such as Beto O'Rourke, Elaine Luria, Val Demings and also accepted election deniers such as Ron De Santis, Ron Johnson and JD Vance.  I enjoyed Vance's book.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/03/hillbilly-elegy.html

January 6th hearings will likely be curtailed as soon as Republicans can arrange it and replaced with some truly spurious hearings.  Elaine Luria was one participant who demonstrated her ability, but was rejected.  Will there be another hearing before the Republicans take over?  I hope so.

Another concern is that some of the Republicans have indicated that they want a check on money sent to Ukraine.  It has been said Putin delayed a military withdrawal from Kherson to encourage Republican voters.

Speaker of the House will be contested by the Freedom Caucus and Mitch McConnell under attack although his advice was largely ignored and would likely have been helpful for their cause.

For the next month or so the Democrats will control both Congressional houses.  The Lame Duck session is usually limited, but must be taken advantage of while possible.  The Democrats should expect obstruction in new term and need to get as much done before.

Donald Trump has a very high opinion of himself, but for many of us his thinking is distorted.  His credibility is diminishing, but he still has loyal fans.  At his first declaration we learn that he hired people to applaud him.  It looks like we can look forward to many distortions and lies stirring up divisions.

Monday, November 14, 2022

FIFA UNCOVERED

A sports event that draws a bigger audience than any other sporting event.  As more than one person has noticed big money attracts corruption..

 One point made evident is that it does indeed take a lot of money to put on a World Cup.  Stadiums are built and renovated.  Transportation is critical to satisfy visitors.  It also carries a lot of prestige that is craved.

FIFA itself is a political entity with representatives around the world.  Almost every country around the world has a vote for such details as president and choosing sites.  

In 1972 Joao Havelange of Brazil was elected president.  One of the good things credited to him was to expel South Africa for its apartheid.  But two years after a military coup, Argentina hosted the 1978 World Cup and were victors.  

Sepp Blatter had been Secretary General and was able to take over when Joal retired.  It became evident that some federation presidents held more power than others.  A prime example was Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago who was head of CONCACAF that included Central American, North America and the Caribbean island, altogether 25 voters.  A surprising example of his power is that in 1990, Nelson Mandela in poor health felt compelled to fly to Trinidad to negotiate with Warner and partially as a result was able to have South Africa to host the World Cup.

Tied to Jack Warner is American Chuck Blazer.  The two men were able to siphon off lots of money for personal use.  Eventually Blazer was turned by the FBI who had learned that Blazer had not paid any income tax for several years.

The film doesn't spend too much time on the Russian selection, but seems obvious that Putin saw the World Cup as prestigious and would use his dictatorial power to get the necessary votes.

United States was favored for the 2022 games, but were up against an organized campaign for Qatar which caught everyone off guard.   It was noted that summertime temperatures were unacceptable.  A lot of concern for human rights history including with the LGBT community.  One detail was that French President Sarkozy was negotiating a jet sale to Qatar.  Qatar was able to gain most of the votes from Africa and CONCACAF.  Since then human rights experts have claimed that several thousands of guest workers had died.

Since the Qator decision, Blatter was forced out and temporarily replace by Jeffrey Webb of the  Cayman Islands, but his corruption soon became evident.  Michel Platini, famous French soccer player was thought to be a credible replacement, but he was implicated in a deal with Blatter.  Finally Gianni Infantino, from a neighboring town of Blatter's became the president.

With this background it is hard to overlook all the corruption.  For some of us it takes a bit of rational gymnastics to look forward to the actual World Cup games.  I am among those who plan and look forwar to watch the games anyway. 

FIFA has promoted soccer to being the one top sport in the world.  Not only the World Cup itself, but initiated development programs in different parts of the world.  The move to South Africa did set a good example of how the prestige of World Cup to good ends.  The 2026 version will use three countries, one of which Mexico is already soccer mad and the other two Canada and United States that are growing in popularity.

The format is unique and only possible in such a popular sport.  For the 2022, after two years or so qualifying 32 teams are eligible.  They were split about 8 groups of 4 teams that had been determined by rankings and lottery.  The first game between host Qatar and Ecuador is on November 21st. and the final is December 18th.  With the third game of the first round the two games are played at the same time to prevent cheating to achieve a better pairing in the next round.  Teams are given rest between games.  The games are spread around several stadiums.   

I do feel guilty about ignoring the corruption and hope that this film and many investigations will rectify FIBA so that the hundreds of millions of fans can enjoy the game.  If you watch the series on Netflix or elsewhere you may decide differently and you will have my respect.

Earlier views of World Cup:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/07/what-world-cup-means-to-me.html  and  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/07/world-cup-2018.html

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The Winners

 I don't actually like hockey, but I love a good story.  Fredrik Backman with "The Winners" (2022) uses a good story that focuses a lot on hockey.  Politics and social relationships surround any popular activity and Backman has captured the "background" activities and that in fact everything is connected.  

 This book carries on from "Beartown" (2017) http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/06/beartown.html  Beartown is a small town in a northern forest area of Sweden.  The town has focused on their hockey team as it provides some excitement as one observer points out a sport team represents the town and when they win the town wins.   It also provides opportunities for politicians and businessmen while attracting lots of social interaction.  The main character is Peter Andersson who played in 4 NHL games in Toronto!  The first book ends after a rape divides the town and forces big changes.

 The sequel "Winners" (2022)  which is many more pages picks up two years later.  There are lots of flashbacks.  Peter Andersson is still a main character, but he feels aimless while his wife, a lawyer has started her own firm in the rival town of Hed where he sort of works.  His daughter who had been raped has moved south to study music and get away from town gossip and resentment.  There are powerful people, both conventional and hoodlum who see opportunities.  Journalism is in to stir up things as well they should. 

The story is as complicated as any mystery, but goes deeper into human relationships.  Many factions wanted to leverage their power including hockey management, business men, politicians, journalists, hoodlums and of course individuals.  More noticeable in this book is a rival hockey club and town, Hed not far away and with interlocking relations apart from trying to win hockey games against each other.  The previous general manager's wife operates a legal firm in Hed and the important goalie for Beartown lives in Hed.  As the story develops there are more relationships.  The arena in Hed is destroyed in a major storm and this opens up various options.  There is concern that the clubs might merge, or that only Beartown would survive or some politicians want to end both clubs and start another one.

The conflicts of the world find their way into the narrative.  As in many countries there is cultural differences between urban and rural areas, the rich and the poor.  There is one gay character who most have accepted (he was a good hockey player), but that the rival team taunts.  There is some reference to mixed races, but again if they are good athletes they win acceptance.  The Beartown A coach is a female and she is tougher than her male colleagues.  Cheating goes on at the game level, but also political maneuvering, some of it illegal is present.  There is a Moral Dilemma (actually more than one) where one character is forced to consider unethical action to rectify an unfair situation.

On one occasion the author refers to Theseus which raised the question of if everything is replaced in an object, is it still the same object.  This author was referring to a hockey rink that had had all its pieces replaced over time.  Reminded me of an earlier blog on the same topic:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/01/ship-of-thesus.html

 What makes the story so compelling is that Backman uses very interesting dialogue, but goes beneath to provide some motivations and human observations.  Hockey is very interesting to many, but more importantly people are interesting and the author is excellent at developing our understanding.     

 Other blogs on Fredrik Backman   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2017/07/a-man-called-ove.html  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/04/anxious-people-by-fredrik-backman.html and  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/01/anxious-people-series.html

This book presented a new challenge for me.  Over the past few years I had fallen into the bad habits of multi tasking which involved snatch reading.  I found myself with an express book and a long waiting lineup.  It is good to concentrate on a book--time flies when you can get absorbed by a compelling story. and I would have to say this one flowed for me.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Revenge of Power

Fareed Zakaria seems a good source for interesting ideas.  Moises Naim visited a second time with a new book that seemed worthy to read.

 In a previous book Moises pointed out that power was being diffused.  The average person had access to information.  In effect many micro powers have developed as many were able to break from isolation with their interests and concerns.  All the factors in "The End of Power" (2013) are still active.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/08/the-end-of-power.html

The focus expressed in this book is that autocrats and would be autocrats  are constantly trying to consolidate their power.  Their strategies are not all new, but technology has given them more tools and they seem to be progressing faster than democracy. 

Silvio Berlusconi represents an earlier parallel to Donald Trump.  In 1994 he had worked himself up from a cruise boat singer to a media conglomerate owner.  He had built up a playboy image and was being investigated for tax evasion and bribery.  He decided to start a political party.  His media staff became candidates and he used his dominating resources to good advantage.  Like Trump, Berlusconi cultivated publicity.  He became leader of one of the largest economies in the world.

Rodrigo Duterte with his death squads met a concern with people fearful of violent drug dealers with a solution that met their concerns.  The simple solution to a serious problem.

In contrast Hugo Chavez was a good listener and understood concerns of the poor.  Author was a cabinet minister under Nicolas Maduro.  When he got power he expropriated much land and started a spiral that ended up in poverty and disaster.

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson point out that nations fail when those who produce wealth lose faith with the state's impartiality and realize that the fruits of their labor are likely to be plundered and transferred to the politically connected.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/11/why-nations-fail.html

The best targets for autocrats are disappointed people, those who find their lifestyle and their dreams declining.

Populists refer to elites as aloof and out of touch.  Expertise is discounted.  This allows those striving for power to offer their own simpler solutions.  This leads to polarization as their fans take sides against the established opposition.  Lately the truth is blatantly overwhelmed with a new "truth."  Surveys showed that anti-expertise voters were key to the Brexit campaign.

Followers identify with Trump by not wearing masks and not getting vaccinated.  For many segments it has reached the stage where marriage and dating decisions are affected by identify.  When celebrity leaders break a norm, their fans do not turn on them, instead they turn on the norms.

Pandemic accelerated some movement and also revealed incompetence.   Inequality has increased and inflation has been another outcome.  Trump lost the 2020 election in part because of his incompetence revealed during the pandemic.

Autocrats support one another.  Currently we are seeing OPEC, Brazil, Hungary, Iran and others lending support to Russia when it attacked Ukraine despite no provocation.  An interesting observation is that autocrats congratulate one another as legitimizing actions that also boost their egos.  Trump had been told by insiders to avoid congratulating Putin, but he could not resist.  The author maintains that Russia did interfere in the 2016 election as did other nations including China, Turkey, Iran and the United States.

Autocrats can evolve to criminal activities.  The author points to Venezuela where kickbacks to drug dealers eventually led to the government taking over sections of the trade.  Other nations have gotten involved in weapons, cigarettes, even illegal immigrants.  Russians have used Interpol to chase after dissidents--check:   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/10/freezing-order.html

Can anything be done? 

Electoral systems do make a difference.  Gerrymandering in effect is letting politicians select their voters.  Citizens United legalized actions that would be illegal in other jurisdictions and raised the ceiling on campaign costs.  Lack of trust in experts has allowed bombastic politicians to con us--check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/07/expertise-too-often-shunted-aside.html

Citizen Assemblies bring random voters together to discuss the issues (with neutral advice).  Their recommendations are to be put to a vote in Parliament or Congress.  As it is many votes are deferred for political reasons despite being favored by a majority of citizens. 

Journalism  can play a role.  There had been a trend towards what might be called "bothsiderism" which basically means both sides get to present their case even if one side is dishonest and hateful.  The truth gets shunted aside.  Who decides what is truth?   Naim's earlier book demonstrated that because people have more access to information and to each other they formed little groups with more power than they had as individuals and those dynamics are still happening.  Politics is more than entertainment and more than a horse race.

Education is critical.  One survey pointed out that most Americans could not pass a United States citizenship exam, yet civics courses have been cut in many jurisdictions.  Critical thinking should be part of all courses.

The Big Lie is still believed by too many.  It seems strange that no actual proof has been found for this provocative claim.  It is likely that for many it is really an excuse to attack their opposition.  Some are contemplating forbidding election deniers elected political positions.

The author offers thoughts and suggestions how to fight autocrats, but perhaps a good start would be for more people to read this book.  Admittedly it adds to our discomfort for the future, but it does offer some remedies. 

A view of leadership that takes us back to origins may expand your understanding:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/07/selected.html