Breaker Morant – an Aussie film that goes too unnoticed

When I am asked to list my favorite movies, I will usually include a film made in 1980 in Australia called “Breaker Morant.” The movie did not get enough airplay here in the US, so if you missed seeing it, that would not have been a difficult task. The movie was directed by Bruce Beresford, but starred several terrific actors who would go on to fame – Edward Woodward (an English actor), Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson. A key role was also played by a younger actor, Lewis Fitz-Gerald. Woodward would play in the US television series called “The Equalizer” while Brown would appear in a number of films like “Fx” and “Australia.” Thompson would also appear in “The Man from Snowy River,” another favorite of mine from Australia.

The movie is about three men who were convicted as scapegoats for committing war crimes they had been authorized to perform during the Boer Wars in South Africa. The men were part of a guerilla team called the Bushveldt Carbineers, who had to resort to unusual tactics to remain safe and be effective. It is based on a true story from the novel “Scapegoats of the Empire” by George Witton. Lt. Harry Morant, played by Woodward was a former horse-breaker on which the title is based. He is a former Englishman of society who is forelorned over a lost love, so he has devoted his career to helping the military fight in faraway places. He is also an acclaimed poet, which is part of his fabric and the movie.

Brown plays Lt. Peter Hancock, who is Morant’s trusted friend, but a man with faults and desires which make him less than perfect like everyone else. Fitz-Gerald plays a more naïve young soldier who gets caught up with the others just doing as he is told. Thompson plays the second lead character as Major J.F, Thomas, an unprepared, but eventually very capable and practical attorney who defends the three in a court-martial trial. He was picked because the leaders wanted someone not to defend them well, but the opposite occurred.

The three are on trial as the British leadership wanted to distance themselves from the Bushveldt Carbineers’ tactics, which were successful. They also were on trial for killing a priest who was a Boer spy before he could get back to share his reconnaissance. The tactics included placing the captured military leaders in the front of returning horse soldiers from battle, as it dissuaded the Boers from attacking them. This was a guerilla type war, where new practices were being done and confirmed at the higher ranks.

Yet, as the war was winding down, the British leadership needed to provide a peace-offering, so the three were put on trial as scapegoats. I will hold off on the conclusion, although some of it is obvious from the title of the book. If you do watch it, and you can with the link below*, know that the movie shows the horror of war, the lack of humanity that can be all-encompassing and how soldiers just doing their job often pay for the sins of their leaders. I also like the fact that they do not promote the three on trial as better men than they are, especially Hancock and Morant. These are cynical and worldly men who realize what they are up against.

If you have seen it or take the chance to do so below, I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts.

* http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/breaker_morant/

 

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A Beautiful Mind Had it Right – Nash’s Theory still applies today

One of my favorite Russell Crowe movies is “A Beautiful Mind” directed by Ron Howard about the schizophrenic Ph.D. in economics, John Nash. If you saw the movie, you know that Nash won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science for his theory which became known as “Nash Equilibrium” that was used in game theory, economic development and other areas. In short it was all about maximizing everyone’s gain. From Wikipedia, this example might help define what Nash’s theory was all about:

“Stated simply, Amy and Will are in Nash equilibrium if Amy is making the best decision she can, taking into account Will’s decision, and Will is making the best decision he can, taking into account Amy’s decision. Likewise, a group of players are in Nash equilibrium if each one is making the best decision that he or she can, taking into account the decisions of the others in the game.”

The reason I raise is this is that we can all benefit more if we work with each other rather than against. If we all try to win the game, whatever that is, we will actually end up in a collective lesser state. This is a key reason why collaboration is vital to the success of most endeavors, including and especially politics. But, let me use a real example of how a region can benefit more economically through collective partnering under Nash Equilibrium.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, we have a terrific new “transmodal distribution facility” that is near the airport. The facility is adjacent to and incorporates railroad train tracks in the distribution process. It is also very conveniently located to three interstates (I-85, I-77 and I-485) and a fourth four lane highway (US 321) which connects to I-40 about forty miles away. If you know your North Carolina geography, you will know that Charlotte is right on the border with South Carolina and several towns in SC are actually included in the Metro Charlotte area.

A key reason for its success is more than the rail, highway and air access. Charlotte is also a convenient driving distance from ports in Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. With the deepening of the Panama Canal set to be complete in 2015, bigger ships can sail from Asia-Pacific (China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, etc.). Yet, unless these ports are dredged to become deeper, the bigger ships cannot enter the harbors there and will sail past. Activity has begun in various stages, but here is where Nash Equilibrium should come to fruition.

The states of North and South Carolina (and Florida and Georgia) should work collectively along with business and the Federal government to deepen all ports noted above. We will all benefit more greatly if we invest together. This would be true on other economic investments where we should work less at cross purposes and compete as a region. I recognize there have been pockets of success where this has been done, but to me, with the significant cost of dredging these harbors and the stalemate in fighting in Washington where Congress is moving money around to fund a very limited transportation budget for infrastructure, this a keen example of why we must work together to benefit more.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell have been promoting a bipartisan investment in our infrastructure, each representing the major political parties. LaHood said this is the best jobs program we could possibly have. And, as I have said before, borrowing money to invest in assets, is different from borrowing money for operations. This is where we need to spend our money as the collective return on investment is huge.

So, to the state legislatures and Congress, let’s get with it and work to invest in America’s ports and roads. As Rendell said, if we don’t deepen our ports, the ships will sail right by us to Canada. John Nash indeed had a beautiful mind. We should follow his direction to maximize our collective gain.

 

 

 

 

Freedom Summer Project – Those who braved Mississippi burning

Fifty years ago this summer, over 700 students from across the country, joined in the Civil Rights battle in Mississippi, where African-Americans had been demonstratively and, at times, violently denied their basic civil rights, especially the right to vote. These students joined together with the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNNC) under the guidance of Bob Moses, who had been slowly organizing SNNC since 1960. These students, were predominantly white, but included all races and ethnic groups.

The fact that many were white helped bring further attention to the ongoing tragedy going on Mississippi, perpetuated by those in power as the young students lived within the African-American community, taught through Freedom Schools young students about African-American history, literature and rights, items that had been absent from their curriculum. The Freedom Summer project can be viewed up close with an excellent documentary being shown on the PBS American Experience. A link is provided below.* I would encourage you to watch the two-hour film as it can tell a story that requires footages of violence, overt racism, and brave people who spoke up, like Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rita Schwerner and countless others.

Hamer is the face of the effort as evidenced by her speaking passionately in front of the 1964 Democratic Convention committee about how she was arrested, beaten, and tormented when she and others tried to register vote. Schwerner is the widow of one the three Civil Rights workers, Michael Schwerner, who along with James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were abducted and killed by the KKK who came to abet the efforts of those in power in Mississippi. The widow rightfully pointed out the fact that two of the abducted (at the time) were white, was the only reason people in America started paying attention. She noted it is a shame that many African-Americans had died or were injured merely trying to exercise their right as citizens. Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, less than 7% of African-Americans in Mississippi were allowed to register due to ostracization, intimidation, and complex constitutional literacy tests.

Since I cannot begin to do justice to this subject, I encourage you to watch the documentary. It will make you ashamed that this could happen in America, while at the same time making you applaud the magnificent courage of all involved, especially those African-Americans who had lived and would continue to live in this Apartheid like state once the freedom summer students went home. Yet, it took the deaths of these three young folks to galvanize and empower people.

It also took the organization of a more representative Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of whites and blacks that went to the national convention to unseat the representatives sent by the state party, who were all white. Since morality was on their side, they almost succeeded, but they ran into the politics of Lyndon B. Johnson, who used his power to squelch the effort for a greater good – he could not help in matters if he did not get elected and he saw this as a means to interfere with that mission, no matter how noble the cause. LBJ accomplished great things for African-Americans, but politics is an ugly thing to watch up close and he looks manipulative in the process.

While their efforts fell short at the convention, their efforts were huge contributors to the passage of the Voting Rights Act the next year. But, one of the young folks who went to the Freedom Schools and is now a PhD., noted that learning about their African-American culture and civil rights that had been denied them, may have been the greatest achievement. I applaud their efforts and bravery. We still have a way to go and are seeing some battles having to be refought with several states passing restrictive Voter ID Laws. Three states have had their new laws ruled unconstitutional, while others are in court now. Yet, just because our President is multi-racial does not mean we are there yet. So, let’s keep in mind the battles these brave folks fought and not let their civil rights be stepped on again, no matter how cleverly masked those efforts.

* http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/

Touring Canada and the US with my sons – priceless

The MasterCard commercials which speak of the cost of various purchases and then conclude with something special you bought with the word “priceless” was defining my week with my two sons. Oldest Son graduated from college in early May and we decided to take the opportunity to pick up Youngest Son from a summer college term in Vermont as a good reason for a tour. So, Oldest Son and I flew into Cleveland and rented a SUV. We had an absolute ball at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is a must see, spending about four hours there listening and watching.

From Cleveland we drove into Canada through Niagara Falls to see one of the great wonders of the world. Note to US citizens, it is much better viewing from the Canadian side. From there we ventured around Lake Ontario to Toronto, which is one of the great cities on our continent. We did many tourist things, but we capped it off by attending a Second City Comedy show. This stage had been home to Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murrey, Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, Mike Myers, Tina Fey and many other comedians.

From there we ventured over to Ottawa, which is a pretty cool city as Canada’s capitol. The architecture is terrific and it has a good vibe. It is also a good walking city. And, before heading down to pick up Youngest Son, we went to Montreal where we had been before. Our trip there was brief, but for US citizens who want to experience a taste of Europe, go to Montreal and Quebec City. The architecture of the churches alone are magnificent in Montreal, but there is so much more to do and see.

Youngest Son goes to college in Burlington, VT which is a very eclectic place. It reminds me of Asheville, NC which is in my home state. Since, Youngest Son is even more eclectic than all of us, he is truly in the right place. He has a favorite tea house which is where we met him before loading up the SUV. If you picture three tall guys being attacked by boxes and luggage, that would be what we looked like in the van.

We ventured south breaking the trip into two days. We went to a wonderful hole in the wall Italian place in New Jersey for dinner and it was terrific respite. Also, we stopped at a German restaurant in the Virginia mountains appropriately named “Edelweiss.” But, the best part of the two-part journey was being with my guys. We traded puns, observed beautiful scenery and just had a great time hanging out. We had some neat conversations on a range of topics.

We went through both sons’ I-Phone music playlists which was neat. Both are very global in their tastes, so we listened to great music from a Blues artist in Israel (Dani Dorchin), a Japanese singer (Yoko Kanno) who sounds like Melissa Etheridge, several rock and roll Irish bands (The Dreadknoughts and Flogging Molly, who is actually from the US, with Irish roots), a very good heavy metal band from Australia called Wolfmother, an instrumental duo with a cellist and guitarist called Montana Skies (very unique sound), and two Scottish folk bands called Old Blind Dogs and The Silly Wizards, both of whom are excellent. We went through some bigger names with Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Billy Joel and Muddy Waters to name a few, plus many others while catching some Big Band/ Ballads from Count Basie and Benny Goodman and some classical stuff on the radio, so we covered the gamut.

The guys loved the fact I liked hearing their music and liked a great deal of it. I had heard some of it before, but this was extra special as we had so much time to go deeper into the playlists. We had a big time and it leaves me with great memories. I get a sense they feel the same. It was definitely worth the expense as what it bought was priceless.

To honor fathers, let’s cease the we/ they inanity

Happy Father’s Day. As a father of three, my wife and I have done some things right and some things wrong. One of the better things we have done is to not tolerate uncivil behavior among our children to each other or others outside the family. As a result, our kids get along well and we have a great blessing of having their friends enjoy hanging around. As any parent will attest, in any argument, both parties tend to share at least some of the blame for the conflict. Oftentimes, the “what did I do?” culprit did something over time that may have led to the event.

Yet, we seem to have lost that perspective when we see adults acting in a childish we/ they manner in matters of politics, business and religion. The Pew Research Center just completed a survey that defined how polarized Americans are becoming and the lack of mistrust of people who believe differently and the blame they assign to the other side. The survey was more for political beliefs, but it could be expanded as well to other hard belief systems. To me, one of the major culprits in this polarization can be traced back to audience segmentation to sell things in the late 1980s. With the advent of better information, sellers of products and services, have targeted audiences to sell more of what they have to offer. This started bleeding over into politics, where the audiences can be guided to “same-song” messages from sources where you will be more inclined to hear what you want to hear.

When you layer on top of that the significant cost of election campaigns, funders can now more easily invest in politicians that will be more inclined to do what the funder wants. And, the funders can influence elections across the country, which is a huge unfair advantage. As the Brat upset of Cantor in Virginia showed, money cannot always buy elections, but for the most part the level of influence is significant. So, with these factors rolled up together, we are in a constant state of we/ they competition where one side is obligated to disagree with the other side on any issue. We are in a continual campaign state and governance of resolving issues is less a concern until the politicians have to act, but even then it is not a given.

The sad part of all of this is the pawns in this ongoing chess game do not get much consideration. The politicians are playing a zero sum game, where my side must win and your side must lose. But, in the end, the pawns are the ones who usually get screwed. So, this we/ they inanity needs to come to a stop or be identified and discounted. As an independent voter who has been a member of both mainstream parties and votes for both Republicans and Democrats, I can assure you neither party owns all the good ideas. To be frank, I am also seeing some very poor ideas that are being considered and passed. When the modus operandi is to have an opposing view on anything, strange ideas can evolve when the other side is closer to being correct in their issue identification and possible solution than you are.

So, how do we end this we/ they inanity? First, if you think you are always right and the other side is always wrong, you may want look in the mirror. You will see a flawed human being. Second, expose yourself to better information sources. We have two unique sets of news sources in our country with Fox and MSNBC who at best, will give you a spun version of the news. My suggestion is to look to more independent news sources. You will find you disagree with what those sources say at times. Good, as you need to challenge your understanding of the issues. When you only hear a spun version of the news, even-handed news can appear biased.

Third, understand that while everyone has opinion, depending on the subject, some opinions should be discounted while others should be heeded. I tend to avoid “shout shows” where people shout over each other. Usually, the louder the voice or more name-calling, the lesser the person’s argument. Look to read or hear from subject matter experts. This is one of the reasons I watch PBS Newshour and BBC World News America, as they tend to have knowledgeable subject matter guests who are allowed to voice their opinions. Another excellent source is NPR which has knowledgeable guests who agree some, disagree some, but hear the other point of view. Plus, on each of these shows, the reporters and hosts are very knowledgeable themselves and can ask good questions.

Fourth, encourage people to focus on the issues and not who benefits politically. I detest the last subject. I recall Katty Kay from the BBC stopping a guest when he started answering a question with who will benefit politically. She said that was not what she asked. She wanted to know what the impact will be and what should be done about it. That is the question we should be asking. I personally care less who will benefit politically and want us to speak to the issues and problems. I also care less for reporters who focus more on the game of politics and less the issues.

Fifth, ask more questions of people and politicians. “Why do you feel that way?” “Help me understand why this is important?” “Who benefits most from this approach and should we rely as much on data provided by that group?” Also, do your best to understand the context of why something was said and done. To be frank, the Internet demonstrates that anyone can be made to look like an idiot if what they say is taken out of context. That does not mean what they said is not idiotic, but you need to look under the hood and at a person’s track record. Someone who does the right thing 19 times out of 20, has a bigger reserve of good will than someone who often does or says the wrong thing. I would also note “words are cheap.” Many politicians will say nice words, but do the opposite for various reasons.

Sixth and finally, blessed are the peace makers and collaborators. Collaboration is not a bad word and I don’t know how we have made it so. For someone to lose their job for collaborating is inane and a disservice to the American people. Go back to the earlier comments above – no side has all the right answers and both sides have some wrong ones. If you want to discredit someone for collaborating to find a solution we can all work with, then go back and look in that mirror. Our greatness is our diversity of thought and people. Whether it is gender, race, ethnicity, religious belief, or sexual orientation, we all have a perspective worth hearing and understanding. You may not agree with it, but listen and you may learn from it. You may also find more common ground than first believed, which is a foundation to build from.

Let’s honor our fathers by being better citizens and acting more like adults. And, two old quotes bear repeating here. First, “you have two ears and one mouth, so use them in that proportion.” Second, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”This we/ they inanity has to end or be discounted for what it is.

 

 

 

 

MLK advice on violence still resonates

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. To many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

* http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/

** http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

Sports movies whose lessons echo

Last month, I highlighted a sports movie that made even men cry called “Brian’s Song.”  The movie was about friendship between men of different backgrounds who were competing for the same job on a football team. So, the movie inspired me to note a few other sports movies, that echo longer, due to the story and/ or circumstances. There are many sports movies that can easily be forgotten, so those that are not have a reason for lasting in our memories.

To me, the most profound sports movie is called “Invictus” which chronicles the greatness of Nelson Mandela using the example of the national rugby team. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in the movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Mandela would not let the Springbok team favored by white South Africans lose its support and galvanized a whole country behind it as it hosted and won the world championship. The team was a metaphor for inclusion and showed why Mandela was able to bring a fractured country together. Mohammed Morsi should have taken notes when he took over Egypt and he may still have a job.

“42” about Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American major league baseball player is of the same ilk. The story is far more than about baseball, as Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Dodger owner Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford), showed a huge amount of courage to break the color barrier years before the Civil Rights Act. Bot received death threats, but Robinson had to face so many obstacles, hatred and abuse by racists, fans, players and even teammates and do so, without responding with anger. Many people would not be up to this challenge and at some point would have reacted. By example, he helped pave the way for others.

A movie some might be surprised is on this short list is “Bull Durham.” The reason I picked this one is it captures the camaraderie of teams quite well and shows the not so glamorous side of baseball in the minor leagues. But, the movie is about an old player and unique woman mentoring a young talented pitcher with a “million dollar arm and a five cents head.” Kevin Costner plays the veteran catcher, while Susan Sarandon plays a unique and astute baseball fan. Ironically, Tim Robbins, who becomes her husband in real life, plays Nuke Laloosh, the pitcher who needs seasoning. It also provides advice for that would resonate in the non-baseball world.  Here a few:

– Strikeouts are fascist. Throw more ground balls, they are more democratic.

– Don’t mess with a streak. If you think you are on a streak because of….then you are.

– Don’t think, just throw.

But, one you may not have seen is a worth the watch – “Bang the Drum Slowly” which is similar to “Brian’s Song,” but about baseball. It stars Michael Moriarty as a pitcher who will not play unless his catcher played by Robert De Niro can play. The catcher has cancer, so this will be his final season, a secret only Moriarty knows.

There are several others that could have been highlighted. “Hoosiers” with Gene Hackman as the imperfect coach of a high school Indiana basketball team that beats all odds to win, is excellent. “Field of Dreams” is also excellent where Costner creates a baseball diamond in his corn field and has the best game of catch at the end. “Seabiscuit” and “Phar Lap” are two movies about race horses and people who should not win, but do while overcoming great adversity. The latter is an Australian movie and is worth the watch. “The Greatest Game Ever Played” about a teenage golfer, Francis Ouimet, who beat three of the best golfers in the world is a little cheesy, but excellent. “The Lou Gehrig Story” is cheesy at times, but with Gary Cooper playing Gehrig, it is worth it. And, even “Rocky” is a classic, although they should have stopped at one.

Let me know your favorites. I know I have left off some good ones, but would love to hear your thoughts.