Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Mad Max Remake

I hate it when a cult movie of decent enough standing is wrecked by a pathetic remake. Such is the case with Mad Max- An orgy of over-the-top violence, bad direction and a story line that led straight to oblivion and stayed there. I am a sucker for Post-Apocalyptic movies but this one (despite the presence of Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy) left me disappointment and begging for an infusion of need I say it....Jane Austin. In short It reminded one of what would be produced if the David Lynch Dune Movie had an offspring with the makers of Grand Theft Auto. Not pretty.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Canadian Electrion 2015 - Latest thoughts

If one believes the current political polls it looks very much that Canadians will wake up on the morning of October 20th with the likely probability of a minority government. Both the NDP and Grits have ruled out a coalition with the Tories and Trudeau seems to have shut off the possibility of a similar united front with Muclair, although he will probably reconsider the decision should the opportunity arrive.

Coalition governments are not always a hallmark of instability (although they often are – look at Italian politics). The British Conservatives for one joined together with the left-of-center Liberal Democrats to govern the country between 2011 and 2015 with a degree of moderate effectiveness. Stable coalitions have played a role in Japanese and Benelux politics as well.

However the problem though with a likely NDP-Liberal coalition is that the power share between the two parties weighs in at a roughly equal level compared to the traditional European coalitions where the centre of gravity is generally skewed toward one party (in Britain’s case the Conservatives).

Muclair is the better of the two with respect to leadership potential. He has a more definite understanding of economic issues and has so far acted with pragmatic intent (a cue taken from Tony Blair who masterminded Labour Party success in 1990s) but his party has three pillars that can fracture with ease. The Quebec caucus is his most powerful base but it is notoriously fickle, provincial and susceptible to splintering should the conditions change. The hard left vote will stick with him but it cannot deliver a government on its own and the BC caucus support can easily be drained by the other two parties. He will have to tread carefully to placate these groups whose interests don’t necessarily align.

Trudeau is a poor choice for PM based on tangible credentials. He has virtually no experience in any project of merit and comes across all too often as an intellectual lightweight. However he does carry a Canadian name built on mythical acclaim (rather than actual substance) and represents a party that in the view of many Canadians (especially immigrants) owns the default status on governing. He has national appeal but much of his support comes from a negative bloc that seems to detest Harper more than they really like Trudeau. Still he enjoys strong media support and in trying to be everything to everyone has built up a base that seems capable of rescuing the party from the doldrums of the Dion and Ignatieff eras.

Neither Muclair nor Trudeau is likely to play second fiddle in a coalition for too long and what will likely occur is that the one will bring down the other with a no-confidence vote (normally on a budget issue). We could therefore be back at the polls within two years or so.

So where does this leave Stephen Harper? With the Duffy scandal receding into the background and the boost of the great news of a budget surplus, Harper needs to keep his attack going on both opponents. He has remained firm on the migrant issue and should not cave into pressure from the opposition. A strong stance against the Niqab (which reflects the view of a majority of Canadians) issue may help drive voters from the NDP to both the Bloc and Tories in Quebec. He needs to keep pushing the obvious truism that both the Liberals and NDP will likely increase taxes. Vote splitting between the left and left-of-center candidates may help him in key ridings but there is no doubt that he is facing an uphill struggle.

The mood in the country seems to be for one of change and that does not bode well for him. Charisma is not his strong point and he is struggling to make inroads with young voters. However he needs to fight back with vigour. He has been a consistent champion of Democracy (and Western Civilization) on the international front and has called out many a dictatorship when he sees it. People need to know more of that.

As a Prime Minister he has governed over a stable Canada that all but cleaved into two following the mishandling of the Chretien Liberals of the Quebec crisis (during the Grit’s earlier tenure). He also should exploit the endorsements offered by Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario Liberals (arguably one of the most fiscally irresponsible governments in Canadian provincial politics) for Trudeau. If he can weaken Liberal strength in Ontario he can pull back much needed votes for his party in a part of the country that appears to be Ground Zero for Battleground Ottawa.

Still its too close to call. Election results can surprise everyone. Cameron came back from the wilderness in 2015 to win in the UK as did Netanyahu in Israel.
Harper should not count on this. He still has time to steamroll Trudeau as a neophyte ill-equipped for the job and can force Muclair to make hard choices that will divide rather than unify his support base. The time is now. This campaign is far from over.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Teaching - First Week Retrospective

Well I just survived the first week back at school which most teachers can testify is more an act of mind altering strategy than conventional pedagogy. On one level its akin to a rebirth on another it screams out for a throttle back of self that after the bliss of the summer is antithesis to the soul.

Students take first weeks seriously and appear to pay more attention to the first quiz than they do to the fourth or fifth test of the course. From both sides of the divide (teacher/student) expectations dominate. Nobody wants to leave a bad impression and this colours the order of business. My priority is to make students feel welcome, establish the ground rules of the course and nurse an excitement on which to build an atmosphere for future learning. With some classes, and I have two this semester, the connection is immediately there. I am not sure if I can quantify what this means but it seems to be a resonance in personality between the teacher and the class’s core group of students. While this resonance undoubtedly helps it can take time to develop and in the odd case might actually fail to emerge.

This does not mean that the student’s fail to learn but it does imply that the process of learning may be more cumbersome and mechanical in its follow through. As a teacher I have learnt to expect this and don’t live under the delusion that my style of teaching can conquer all. Still an immediate resonance is most welcome. Ultimately it translates to an ease of teaching.

Even so with even the best of classes there are individual students who run the risk of being overlooked, and if not given the level of personal attention, may negatively splinter in their grasp of the material from the core group. This is the real challenge of teaching - reaching those students, while keeping your focus on the core group and exceptionalities on the other end. I call this the 'Juggling Act of Teaching'. Take you eye off any of these elements and spheres come crashing downward. No teacher wants that to happen.

Thirteen years of teaching have afforded me the opportunity to develop these multitasking skills and while I have still much to learn I know now that the raw enthusiasm and book smarts which guided me in my early years only serve as a foundation for the real teaching knowledge that evolves with each student taught.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Liverpool - not feeling warm and fuzzy

Despite the fact that Liverpool seem to have improved their attack with the acquisitions of Christian Benteke and Danny Ings I am still not feeling the confidence that I believe that I should be with this apparent improvement in squad depth. Two goals in four games (one of which was controversial) do not appear to highlight an attacking format that will be the envy of the League. Part of this is that the stakes have been raised. Man City have retooled and while Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal are still struggling to fire on all cylinders one can sense that it is only a matter of time before these giants hit their stride.Couple this with the impressive performance of Swansea/West Ham/Leicester and it is obvious that Liverpool will have to scrap for each point if they are intent on consolidating a top four finish. However it is still early days. The Premiership may yet throw up a few curve balls that will possibly bounce in the Reds favour. We live with hope.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

WWII - A Bringer of Great Change

History has been drastically transformed by both long-term and short-term phenomena. The Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution easily describe the former while the French Revolution, the Great War and WWII fall under the rubric of the latter.
Having been born less than twenty five years after WWII and therefore come of age in the milieu of the Cold War (essentially the spawn of WWII) I have somewhat of an emotional attachment to this historical turning point. Both my grandfather and granduncle fought in the war and its events (certainly its impact on World Jewry) continue to influence my personal way of thinking.
What follows is a list that I have compiled of important changes and transformations that were either galvanized or transformed, both indirectly or directly, by World War Two (not in any order)

1. The Cold War – In a sense this was the leftover fallout of the uneasy alliances that made possible the defeat of the Axis Powers. It was defined by the emergence of an ideological struggle (East v West or Communism v Capitalism).
2. Consolidation of the position of the US as a world power – Before WWII the US was viewed as more of an economic power than a military giant after the war it was clear that the US was both.
3. Decline of Britain as a World Power – Britain was already on the decline following the turmoil of the Great War but World War Two confirmed and augmented this deterioration. What would follow in the years to come was a retreat from Empire (The crown Jewel of India would gain self determination in 1947) and the abdication of Britain as the primary defender of Western Democracy.
4. Weakening of France – The French decline while paralleling that of Britain was in many ways even more severe in that it was motivated by that nation’s inglorious performance in WWII. Humbling defeats in French Indochina were to follow.
5. Growth of Socialism in Western Europe – Socialism would grow unfettered on the free side of the continent with policies of industrial nationalization and extension of big government being adopted to placate a war weary populace. Some have argued that the decline of Western Europe as a key player and a believer in its own sense of exceptionality is a consequence of the socialist mind frame.
6. Germany and Japan were successfully pegged back and weakened so that they could be rebuilt into democratic (and economic) powerhouses in the image of the allies.
7. Extension of the Iron Curtain – Eastern Europe and a vast Soviet Union would for sometime fall under the Totalitarian control of the Marxist-Leninist dogma.
8. Transition of China to Maoism – The Japanese invasion of China debilitated the central nationalist government (who fought bravely against the outsiders) leaving them devoid of the wherewithal to defeat Mao and his Communist insurgents.
9. Independence drive for global colonial regions – The Mother countries lost their will to govern their colonial empires inspiring the success through peaceful and violent means of grassroots liberation movements Within the next thirty to forty years the vast European controlled territories would assume their new status as self governing nation states (Winds of Change).
10. The Birth of the Nuclear Age – The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki signalled this beginning of this Age but the development beforehand (such as the Manhattan Project and the competing Axis initiatives) that had their impetus with the war effort.
11. Improvement in Medicine – Vast strides in medical triage, use of antibiotics and surgical techniques were greatly accelerated by the war.
12. Development of Weapons Technology – As expected this was ubiquitous across all fields from gun manufacturing/munitions, to tank production, to armed vehicle and naval warfare (Sonar, depth charges, sea mines etc.) - In the fields of aviation great strides were made with respect to jet technology, plane manoeuvrability and payload transportation and release.
13. Espionage enhancement – Not only was the effectiveness of cloak and dagger spying, sabotage and other types of covert action improved over the course of the war many of the modern intelligence gathering services were born and grew to maturity in this volatile environment.
14. The End of the Great Depression – There is some debate as to whether World War II actually ended the Great Depression but it certainly impacted the production and employment profiles of the nations involved in a positive sense.
15. The Women’s Movement receives a big boost – With many of the men at war women provided an important role on the production line at the Home Front. The symbol of Rosie the Riveter and the boost that she gave First Wave Feminism in the work environment would forever change the traditional structure of western society.
16. Formation of the United Nations – Although it has not lived up to its original intention and certainly sports a history of both success and failure the genesis of the UN (Dumbarton Oaks Conference – October 1944) has its origins in World War Two.
17. Global Economics – Both the IMF and the World Bank were organizations that were set up to stabilize and mend international economics after the horrors of WWII (and to some extent the Great Depression). They continue to play a key role in global financer today.
18. Space Race – While its history is marred in the Cold War the prototypes of the Rockets developed by both the US and the Soviets trace their background to Germany’s World War II V1 and V2 Programs (Wunderwaffen). These developments also pre-staged the missile delivery era associated with the Nuclear Arms Race.
19. The Holocaust and an enhanced sensitivity towards genocide – While the message has been somewhat mixed and not always consistent our awareness of issues of human rights abuse (so often flatly ignored before WWII – look at the Armenian Genocide of 1915) has been highlighted by the Shoah.
20. Formation of the State of Israel – Its possible that the Jewish state may have come into fruition without the occurrence of WWII (the Balfour Declaration was signed in 1917) but the war and the ramifications of the Holocaust certainly sped up the process.
21. Oil Politics – The inability of the both the Third Reich and Japan to secure stable oil supplies for their respective war machines contributed to the failure of each of these military forces. Consequently oil politics as a driver for both political economy and industrial production would be highlighted by this truism.
22. The Computer Age – The Code breaking machine driven initiatives at Bletchley Park together with the early computer ENIAC saw their light in World War II. Alan Turing and the Bletchley crowd greatly shortened the war and set in motion the embryonic Information Age.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Twenty Two Favourite Art Works

(No Order)

1. Chagall Windows at the Hadassah Medical Center (Chagall)
2. Starry Night (Van Gogh)
3. Libery Leading the People (Delacroix)
4. Tennis Court Oath (David)
5. Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (Michelangelo)
6. Last Supper (Da Vinci)
7. Persistence of Memory (Dali)
8. Bathers (Cezanne)
9. Luncheon of the Boating Party (Renoir)
10. Salon at the Rue des Moulins (Toulouse lautrec)
11. Guernica (Picasso)
12. The Second of May 1808 (Goya)
13. A Few Small Nips (Kahlo)
14. Women and Birds at Sunrise (Miro)
15. Symbolic Lanscape (Riviera)
16. Coronation of Napoleon (David)
17. Laughing Cavalier (Hals)
18. Dream caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Wakening up
19. The Models (Seurat)
20. Two Tahitian Women (Gaugin)
21. Night Watch (Rembrandt)
22. Cafe Terrace at Night (Van Gogh)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Election Zoo

There was an insightful article in the Washington Post (reprinted in the National Post) about how the US election in 2016 may evolve into a four-party affair. Both the GOP and the Dems are seeing the establishment being challenged from the base. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz represent this aspect on the Republican front while Bernie Sanders (at least for now) seems to be championing the progressive cause in the Democratic camp.
The last time the US had a genuine four party election was in 1948 (Lyndon LaRouche ...doesn’t count) when my personal favourite Harry Truman triumphed over two other Democrats (Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond) and a Republican (Thomas Dewey) to take the White House honours. George Wallace ensured a genuine three-party race in 1968 as did Ross Perot in 1992 (and to some extent Ralph Nader in 2000 who appears to have inadvertently swung the election towards Dubya in the millennium year) but for the most party US elections are two-party affairs.
Trump and Cruz appear to be genuine contenders within the GOP fold with Trump the more likely to bolt and run as an Independent should his ego be slighted (which won’t take much). Sanders is gaining momentum in New Hampshire but will probably turn out to be 2016’s version of another leftist who failed to launch, Howard Dean (in 2004). We will wait and see. Perhaps Sanders will go it alone as well.
Nevertheless this all makes for an interesting campaign. If nothing else it will shake up the establishment and enliven what potentially would be another dull Clinton v Bush affair. Its these various side plots that make US politics intriguing to follow from an outsider’s perspective. Who needs paid for entertainment, such as the overblown West Wing or House of Cards, when the real thing in 2016 is shaping up to be more of a no-holes barred circus?