The year the Earth changed

If you haven’t watched the documentary “The year the Earth changed” on Apple TV+, do yourself a favor: Subscribe and watch it! I guarantee it’s worth $5 you’ll pay, which still is less expensive than a lot of drinks at Starbucks.

The pandemic forced many of us to go into lockdowns, especially around March and April last year. The unusual pause in human activities led to a once-in-a-lifetime drop in human disturbance in the natural world. That is what this documentary is all about. The crew went to different parts of the world to record what happened to the Earth when humans paused for a change. They pieced together a beautiful story of how much the natural ecosystems benefited from our short-term retreat; which, by extension, is a condemnation of how detrimental our existence is to other species.

One example that I remember very well is how tourists to Africa endanger the lives of cheetah cubs. Cheetahs are the fastest sprinters in the world. They run fast because of their slender build. But it is exactly that build and the tendency to live individually that put them at disadvantage against other hunters such as lions or hyenas. Mother cheetahs are responsible for keeping their cubs safe and feeding them at least once every two or three days. The hunts are not always easy. Mother cheetahs may have to run very far away from their cubs to be able to catch and kill preys. Once a kill is completed, there begins a dilemma. Dragging a prey back to the cubs is a laborious task that may invite unwanted guests in hyenas and lions, against which the lonesome cheetahs stand little chance. Going back to fetch the cubs can protect the weak younglings, but mothers and children may find themselves with empty stomachs because the food will likely be stolen. Hence, mother cheetahs naturally use discreet and distinct voice to call the cubs over. They cannot make too big or too frequently a sound because danger always lurks around and the position of their powerless cubs may be compromised. Naturally, cheetahs adapt to the surrounding conditions to develop their ability to communicate with each other safely. Until humans. As tourists with all the noisy jeeps and talk make it exceedingly challenging for the cubs to listen to the call of their mothers. In the documentary, experts said that the pause in tourists to where cheetahs live increased the livelihood of cheetah cubs.

Listening to the engaging narration of David Attenborough and watching how other species’ lives amazingly became so much better without us is simply jaw-dropping. I couldn’t believe how much a disturbance we humans are. This pandemic is a blessing in disguise. No more theories. No more what-ifs. What happened in nature when we took a break was real. There is now recorded evidence that there is so much that we can and must do to protect our environment and other species.

An excellent documentary. Really thankful to those that put it together.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a solid movie with an important message

I paid $16 today for HBO Max with the sole intention of watching Wonder Woman 1984. It was money well-spent as far as I am concerned. If you are still on the fences about the movie or if you’re looking for something to watch, I recommend that you give it a try.

The movie is a sequel of the previous Wonder Woman. It was in 1984 and Diana Prince was working at the Smithsonian in Washington DC as an expert. Steve Trevor was still dead and Diana still missed him dearly, wishing to have him back every day. One day, the Museum received a historical item that could grant a person with one wish, as long as the person touches the item upon making the wish and the so-called Dreamstone could take away one thing in return that the wisher might not know yet.. All hell broke loose from there. I am not giving away spoilers here, but the ending is beautifully bittersweet and the cast did a great job, especially the chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot. Plus, it’s not too often that we see a male playing a supporting role to a female hero. That is a refreshing change I can get behind. But I have two biggest take-aways from this movie.

Every one of us has something in our life that we are not pleased with, that we want changed. A bigger house, bigger eyes, more money, more time in our youth, a better paying job, a healthier body or a fancier car, you name it. The item, called the Dreamstone, in the movie grants a person the wish and takes something in return. We make trade-offs like that often in our life. Sometimes some of them are more obvious in the short term than others. Like, if you have a reasonable pay and a job that makes you happy and excited to go to work every day, would you trade it for another job with an additional $100k that yet would make you miserable every day? If an investment job paid you extremely well but took away 16 hours of your day and left you little to enjoy life, would you still be up for it?

The question would be even more profound if what you wish for was at the expense of many others. Said another way, if your refusal of one thing you ever wish for contributed to the collective well-being, would you still make that sacrifice? The movie, in the end, came down to that question. I find it very relevant with the current pandemic we have to deal with here. If many of us had made the sacrifice on the personal level and done the right thing, especially in America, we would have been in a far better situation today. If we had worn a mask and practiced social distancing…If we had put the collective well-being of the society above our personal freedom…If the politicians in charge had put their duty above their thirst for power…

The movie also reminded me of gratitude. I too have things in my life that I wish to change. Some of them remain short-term terms that keep me going every day and looking forward to in the future. But being obsessed with wishes can often carry me away from being appreciative of what I currently have. In the middle of a pandemic and a winter that is going to get harsher, I have my own apartment that keeps me warm and safe, a job that helps me put food on the table, people that I love and can reach out every day, and health that has shielded me from trouble and expensive bills. Can it be better? Sure, but a lot of people are in a worse situation.

Sometimes I find myself in a bad mood because I am consumed by jealousy of others and the wishes that may or may not happen in the future. 30 years of living taught me enough to get myself back to appreciating the present, most of the time. Books and movies like Wonder Woman 1984 do help as well. For that reason, I consider my subscription to HBO Max money well-spent, though I struggle to find anything else to watch, apart from the new Wonder Woman.

A friend asked me today how I was going to spend the rest of this eventful year. Being isolated in an apartment without much work, I answered: relaxing and self-reflecting. It has been a tough year so far, but it also came with some positivities for me in the last 300 days; which I may talk about in the next few days. The most important thing is that I am sitting here, able to blog about a new movie instead of being in a hospital or worse, dead or toiling away in a 2nd or 3rd or 4th job on a cold Friday night to make ends meet. That’s what I appreciate the most.

Macroeconomic consequences of the upcoming election and review of Rage as well as Long Way Up

Macroeconomic Consequences of The Upcoming Election

We all know that elections have consequences and the upcoming one is no exception. Whoever between Trump and Biden wins in November will have major ramifications for the US and the world. Moody Analytics released a study on the macroeconomic implications of the election, theorizing out what a win for Biden or Trump would mean for the economy. In short, it can’t be more different.

Essentially, Moody looked at four different scenarios: A Democrat Sweep, A Democrat President + a Split Congress, A Republican Sweep and A Republican President + a Split Congress

Figure 1 – Election scenarios. Source: Moody

While I admit that Moody is being very pragmatic in their possibility of each scenario, the fact that there is 35% chance of a Republican Sweep gives me nightmares after all that the current Administration and Congress have done for the past few years, especially in the fight against Coronavirus. Nonetheless, what would each scenario mean for the economy?

Figure 2 – Macroeconomic forecast of each scenario. Source: Moody

The implications can’t be clearer: a Democratic Sweep, according to Moody, would be the best scenario for employment and the economy, and for lower & middle-income households.

Lower- and middle-income households benefit more from Biden’s policies than Trump’s. Biden ramps up government spending on education, healthcare and other social programs, the benefits of which largely go to those in the bottom half of the income distribution. Meanwhile, he mean- ingfully increases taxes on the well-to-do, financial institutions and businesses to help pay for it. Trump largely does the reverse. He makes permanent the temporary tax cuts he implemented in his first term. The benefits largely go to higher-income house- holds and businesses, while government spending is scaled back on healthcare and a range of social programs, the benefits of which go mainly to those with lesser in- comes and wealth.

Source: Moody

To be clear, no-one would know for certainty what would happen in the next few years. Regardless, it’s undeniable that the economy as well as the federal budget improved under Democratic Presidents in the last 20-30 years such as Clinton and Obama, while contracting and slumping under Republican Leaders like Bush and Trump. In the case of Trump, his presidency is hit by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, but when you are at the helm, you have to take the responsibility. The power of the President is massive, yet when you compare the US to other developed countries, it lags far behind in the fight against Coronavirus. Plus, I believe his “America First” rhetoric, coupled with the careless use of tariffs, and a tax cut that significantly lowers tax revenue for the government are more harmful than helpful to the American people.

One can argue that policies take a long time to take effect and the results under Democratic Presidents came from Republican policies. If that were true, then whatever economic gains or glowing numbers that the government likes to boast about would have to come from Obama’s actions.

It comes down to this: if you are inclined to believe in research from organizations with credibility in the financial intelligence & analytics world, have a read of the paper to be more informed before the election. If that’s not your cup of tea, if you believe more in what the administration or Fox News hosts say, then by all means.

It’s just so shocking to me that so many folks can vote against their own interests.

Rage by Bob Woodward

I picked up the book from a recommendation on Twitter. Bob Woodward is a veteran journalist that has covered 9 presidents, reported originally on the Watergate scandal and garnered much respect & credibility in the journalism and politics world. For reasons unknown to even Bob, he managed to secure 17 on-the-record interviews with Trump. This book mainly contains what went on in those interviews. Throughout the book, Bob took audience on the journey throughout the major milestones in Trump’s presidency with his relentless reporting and correspondence with Trump himself. His interviews helped readers understand more about Trump, about how he thought and came to make major decisions such as policies during the pandemic or strategic allies with South Korea, about how erratic Trump is and about how the folks around him really thought about him.

I am not a big fan of Trump, to put it extremely lightly, but I have to give him credit for agreeing to sit down with a journalist on the record for 17 interviews while knowing that the book would not be kind on him. Personally, I don’t know if I could do it. Normally, books like this one are criticized to be extreme biased either against or in favor of the President. I’d say that this book is pretty fair because most of the content of the book actually came out from Trump’s mouth and could be easily verified. If you look for a weekend read, try this one.

“What the hell is going on?” Coats asked in a private sidebar conversation with Mattis after one session. In just one example, Trump wanted to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and South Korea. There was a rush. Instantly. “Get them out!” Trump had commanded.

“That’s crazy,” Mattis said to Coats. “That’s dangerous.”

Coats was troubled by the absence of a plan or a consideration of the human dimension—the impact on the troops, the allies, the world—or a sense of the weight of the office.

“The president has no moral compass,” Mattis replied. The bluntness should have shocked Coats, but he’d arrived at his own hard truths about the most powerful man in the world. “True,” Coats agreed. “To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”

Excerpt From: Bob Woodward;. “Rage.”

Then Trump digressed to reveal something extraordinary—a secret new weapons system. “I have built a nuclear—a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There’s nobody—what we have is incredible.”

Later I found sources who confirmed the U.S. military had a secret new weapons system but no one wanted to provide details and were surprised Trump had disclosed it. Trump had asked for and received massive funding increases for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the nuclear weapons stockpile, since taking office.

Excerpt From: Bob Woodward;. “Rage.”

By early 2020, Kushner thought Trump had assembled a better and more dedicated White House team than they’d had before.

“In the beginning,” Kushner told others, referring to the first years of the administration, “20 percent of the people we had thought Trump was saving the world, and 80 percent thought they were saving the world from Trump. Now, I think we have the inverse. I think 80 of the people working for him think that he’s saving the world, and 20 percent—maybe less now—think they’re saving the world from Trump.”

Let that analysis sink in: Twenty percent of the president’s staff think they are “saving the world” from the president.”…

“In meetings, Kushner said, Trump was “an expert at cross-examination. He’s an expert at reading people’s tells. He won’t say, let me go with a nuanced position. He’ll, in a meeting, say, well, what if we do 100? They’ll say, oh, you can’t do that. And then, he’ll say, well, what if we do zero? It’s like, holy shit. It’s whiplash. So that’s his way of reading people, is to see how certain are they of their position: Do they hold their ground? Do they buckle? So that’s just his style.

“And by the way,” Kushner added, “that’s why the most dangerous people around the president are overconfident idiots.” It was apparently a reference to Mattis, Tillerson and former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn. All had left. “If you look at the evolution over time, we’ve gotten rid of a lot of the overconfident idiots. And now he’s got a lot more thoughtful people who kind of know their place and know what to do.”

Excerpt From: Bob Woodward;. “Rage.” Apple Books.

Long Way Up Documentary on Apple TV+

This documentary chronicles the road trip by Ewan McGregor and his friend Charlie from the tip of South America to California in the span of three months. What makes this trip special is that they used electric motorcycles entirely and that the trucks that followed to support them when critical were also electric. In “Long Way Up”, audience will see how the two friends and their team prepared for the challenge, including working with a company to build two prototype electric trucks & with Harley Davidson to build completely new untested electric motorcycles, learning Spanish at the last minute and most importantly planning how to charge the bikes all the way. There have been only three episodes released so far, but I am completely hooked. With the effort by Ewan, Charlie and their team to achieve such a monumental task. With the natural beauty of South America and how little I know about it. With the immense possibility of what humans can do.

Interesting documentaries to widen your horizon

I have watched a few interesting documentaries during this long weekend and I want to share with you what I think of them.

Gobekli Tepe

This documentary is called “The Cradle of the Gods” on Disney Plus. It’s about an ancient site in Turkey called Gobekli Tepe. The discovery of Gobekli Tepe, according to the documentary, turned what we thought we understood about human history and civilizations on its head. Before this discovery, we thought agriculture was the catalyst for religion and arts. Once people settled down and had more food produced and stored, they could finally have time and security to think about and develop religion.

Not in the case of Gobekli Tepe. The site consists of many structures on top of a steep hill that are made of stones weighing dozens or hundreds of tons. What makes Gobekli Tepe interesting is that scientists estimate the structures were made around the end of the last Ice Age, when humans were still hunters and gatherers, and there was no language, metal tools or even wheels to help move supremely heavy stones up the hill. Yet, the structures were still miraculously built. Scientists’ theory for why people, thousands of years ago, went through all that trouble to build the structure is that they want to have a place to celebrate their belief: humans are superior to savage animals. Such a belief banded hunters and gatherers together to achieve a monumental feat. Later, they settled on the lands at the bottom of the hill and started their journey towards agriculture and an early stage of civilization.

The theory proposed by scientists who discovered Gobekli Tepe meant that religion came before agriculture, not the other way around, at least in this case. I think it’s a fascinating documentary. Fortunately, it seems you can watch it on YouTube in full here:

The Lost City of Machu Picchu

Another documentary on Disney Plus is called “The Lost City of Machu Picchu”, featuring arguably the most intact archaeological site of the Inca. The Inca rule in South America in the 1400s and 1500s lasted only 100 years and was full of mysteries before it was brutally ended by the Spanish conquerors. The Spaniards destroyed every Inca city that they invaded, yet somehow Machu Picchu wasn’t discovered and fortunately survived. More than 100 years ago, an explorer named Hiram Bingham came across Machu Picchu and wrote a piece published on National Geographic about what he thought was the purpose of Machu Picchu.

What the scientists in this documentary found out; however, largely debunked Bingham’s theory. Moreover, they went in details on what builders did several hundred years ago to construct this monumental site. Machu Picchu was built on a treacherous ground. First of all, it’s on top of a mountain ridge; which poses a tremendous challenge in bringing heavy stones up from quarry sites nearby. Secondly and more importantly, Machu Picchu site has a lot of rain during the year. Without a sophisticated drainage system, the soil would have been eroded and the stones would have been washed away. By digging into the ground at Machu Picchu, the scientists learned about a magnificent construction feat by the Inca builders that not only effectively carries rain water away from the site and keep the soil from being eroded, but also directs drinkable water throughout the small city for allegedly a thousand inhabitants.

It blows my mind to watch the documentary and see how the Inca people made such an engineering and architecture achievement without sophisticated tools that we have nowadays. If you are interested in the Inca and Macu Picchu, you should check it out

Source: The Habitatilist

All or Nothing on Tottenham

If you are a football/soccer fan, you’ll likely enjoy this one. The documentary chronicled the last season at Tottenham Hotspur, one of the biggest clubs in London and England in general. The Amazon Prime crew was given exclusive access to the players, the coaches, the manager, the Head of Recruitment, the staff, the Chairman and so on. They even secured permission to be present in some of the most sensitive conversations at a football club. For instance, viewers could see the conversation between Chairman Daniel Levy and Manager Jose Mourinho on Christian Eriksen, who had had only a few months on his contract and been on his way out of the club. Audience could also listen to a candid exchange between the manager and Dany Rose, who had been at the club for 12 years and demanded to play or he would prefer to leave; which he did.

There are a few things that fascinate me. First, the filming crew had to be very aware of the situations they were in. Imagine that as a manager, you were about to have a tough conversation with your players during half time and your team was down. I can imagine having someone else film the whole thing could be very irritating. Hence, the ability to blend in situations without being a disruption or annoyance is pretty admirable.

Second, as I mentioned above, the crew recorded some highly confidential and sensitive conversations at the club. There must have been a great deal of trust and professionalism between the club and the production crew. Otherwise, the whole thing would have been a catastrophe. Imagine what would have happened if the names of starting players for an important match had been leaked or transfer issues had been improperly disclosed to the press.

Third, the documentary, which has new episodes every week, pulls the curtain on what goes on behind the scenes at a football club: how they are treated physically, the training, the process before a match, the team hurdle, the psychological change, the struggle with injuries and so on. For me as a football fan, I am highly fascinated what I have seen so far. It’s available on Amazon Prime, you really should check it out.

Movie: Just Mercy

This movie is based on a true story. It is about Bryan Stevenson, a black Harvard-educated lawyer, who came down South to Alabama to offer legal representation to death row inmates. He got involved in multiple cases, the most notable of which was the case of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian. Johnny D was charged and convicted of murder of a 18-year-old white woman. The charge and conviction was based entirely on a testimony of a convicted felon, who was coerced to provide false testimony. There was no hard evidence presented to tie Johnny D to the murder. There were multiple witnesses who weren’t presented in court.

In light of what is happening in the US, the movie adds to the voice that sounds increasingly louder across the country. There was, is and has been racism against minorities, or black people. It’s unfathomable to think that we are still dealing with this issue after achieving numerous technological advances. Think about it. We just sent people to the space in a spaceship built by a private entity. We can call anybody on Earth now, with video, for free through a litany of apps such as Messenger, Whatsapp, Viber, Instagram, iMessage. We can order everything we need to home without even setting foot out of our apartments. Yet, the racism is still raging on.

A few days ago, I blogged about “qualified immunity” and the protection that the Supreme Court seems to grant the police all the time. A lot of cases that Bryan Stevenson helped reversed and dropped in real life were because of the judicial system and the decisions by the courts. If the Supreme Court doesn’t drop the “qualified immunity” doctrine, what hope could there be for the victims?

Anyway, the movie is free and available on all digital streaming services for the month of June. I thank all that are involved in the production and distribution of the movie for bringing an important message to the screens and letting us view it for free in June. If you have some time, please do watch and share it #BLM

Review of The Banker and Defending Jacob

It has been a while since I took time on a weekend to watch some movies and series. I saw The Banker and Defending Jacob today on Apple TV+ and wanted to share a few thoughts

The Banker

The movie is about two black men who wanted to take down the racism and segregation in the real estate and banking industries in America several decades ago. By their entrepreneurship, determination and talent, they managed to own a sizable fortune from their real estate business in California. After the success, Bernard Garrett set his sight on helping black people in his hometown Texas access capital which could, in turn, change their life. To do so, Bernard and his partner Joe Morris and Matt Steiner bought a bank in Texas. Since having colored folks as owners of a bank threatened its existence, Bernard and Joe did their work behind the scene with Matt as the front man. They started to make loans to the black community, true to their mission. The entire operation was put in jeopardy by a jealous and racist minor owner who was the son of the previous owner. The trio were put in a congressional hearing chaired by a Senator with a racist agenda. They were offered immunity deals to say what they were asked to say or they could speak their mind and go to prison. Truth was spoken, immunity deal was granted and a revolutionary law was passed to make banking fairer.

Working at a bank, I have come across laws that require equal access to capital a few times. Everything we do from issuing credit cards to lending out money has to be legal. Even if we want to use an attribute provided by our partner to make targeting more efficient, the attribute has to be investigated by our Compliance to make sure that there is no discrimination. It’s tedious and bureaucratic, but it’s necessary. Watching this movie brought me a new level of appreciation for some of the banking laws.

I enjoyed the movie and the story it told.

Defending Jacob

This is a new series from Apple starring Chris Evans. It’s about a Deputy Attorney District in a county in Massachusetts named Andrew Barber. One day, a high school student who went to the same school as his son was found dead in a park two blocks from their home. The tight-knit community was on edge. Andrew was charged with leading the investigation. The dead student was stabbed to death. Later, the investigation uncovered that his son bought a knife two weeks prior to the murder and was seen bullied by the victim. Andrew was taken off the case and his family’s world was turned upside down.

Only three episodes of the series have been aired so far, but they have been pretty nice. The drama is getting more exciting by each episode. The plot was set up to reveal more explosive twists later. I enjoyed watching the actors playing the Barbers bring out the struggle that their family had to go through. I think Chris did a good job. It’s refreshing to see him outside of his iconic role as Captain America. I suspect his son was dead, but don’t mind waiting for a few episode to find out.

Disclaimer: I own Apple stocks in my portfolio