Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Teenage Years

I don’t think that there are many people who grew up in the milieu of the white collar west who can attest to their teenage years being the most pleasant and memorable period of their lives. By its very nature this time is both angst ridden and suffocating. One comes of age in having left childhood only to be thrust in a world where the sophistication of a more mature age is not so apparent. It is a period of learning and of failing.

Our modern life can protect us from the repercussions of such a fall (more so than was the case in earlier times of social history) but it does not do much to guard one from the insecurities of peer group politics and the herd mentality that seem to define these years. At its core is a struggle between the need to be ourselves as individuals and the realization that those who exist in the Out Grouping walk a path that is perilous. Each day we face these behemoths without the safeguard of life experience that will only emerge in later years.

Now for some the battle is easier than it is for others. They can make their peace with the dichotomy. That was never the case for me. Support may be near but by a strange twist in the irony of life it is distant. For these challenges of the teen years are really ours and ours alone to resolve

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Forgotten guys

The following is a list of ten unheralded players in the EPL. All of these individuals contributed immensely to their respective squads but their performances (usually low key but effective) never earned them the same accolades as some of their more illustrious peers.

1. Martin Keown – Easily one of the best man-markers of his generation. Keown regularly shackled physical opponents such as Didier Drogba and Mark Viduka. His position sense was textbook in its application and he was the mainstay of a stingy Gunner’s defence for over a decade.

2. Dietmar Hamman – He did his job and he did it very well. The Liverpool teams that had Didi in their spine were resolute in performance as his calming influence and control of play in his half of the field could steady any torrent. His actions in Istanbul on that night in 2005 is the stuff upon which legends are built.

3. Ole Gunnar Solsjaer – Solsjaer (please don’t bring up that mind numbing Sunshine song) was in all likelihood the best super-sub in the history of the EPL. His scored 91 times in an eleven year stint with United where he was largely positioned behind the pecking order of Cole, Yorke and Van Nistlerooy. However many of the goals that he scored were key game breakers delivered with clutch precision. The extra-time strike in the 1999 Champion’s League Final being the most memorable (or most forgetful if you are a Bayern Munich fan).

4. David Batty – They will not make David Batty highlight videos but when it comes to work rate, endurance over ninety minutes and a tireless effort over the full game David Batty was right up there with the best. He was an important player for EPL minnows Blackburn (even if they were minnows with money) as they stormed to the apex of the table to essentially become the last provincial team to win English footer’s most coveted piece of silverware.

5. Claude Makelele – Not only was CM the linchpin of a great Real Madrid squad (renowned for its turn-of-the-millennium Euro success) he continued, without missing a beat, playing the same role at Chelsea. Together with Michael Essien the two established a partnership that would ensure midfield domination by the Blues against almost any opposition, thus allowing the likes of Frank Lampard to continue marketing himself as midfielder while establishing a goal scoring profile more akin to a striker. Makelele was the master of the tackle and distribution double act and performed his craft with a standard per excellence.

6. Danny Murphy – The Murph was your antidote to flashy play but when it came to dropping a free kick ball into the box for forwards to lunge in on he had an intrinsic knack matched by few. Couple that with three consecutive Old Trafford fixtures games where his goals were the deciding factor in Liverpool victories and Murph certainly earns his place on this list.

7. Gary Pallister – He was the first defender to switch teams as a result of a really big transfer (at least for the time) but Pallister paid his bosses back with his vital performance in the back four. His partnership with Steve Bruce was crucial to United’s inaugral EPL triumph in 1993 and the double winning feat that followed the year after. The Devil's genesis as a team emerging from the wilderness of League success owes much to players like Pallister. Nevertheless he appears to have dropped back, behind the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Jaap Staam and Rio Ferdinand when discussing United’s central defence legends and he is rarely mentioned in the same breath as those later stars by the club faithful. THis is somewhat of a shame.

8. Ray Parlour – In an Arsenal midfield and strike force loaded with a plethora of talented continental players (Anelka, Bergkamp, Petit, Viera, Overmars ), Ray Parlour was the standout Englishman, He chimed in regularity from the wide position and gave the Gunners balance in an attack that was by all measures extremely lethal.

9. Markus Babbel – At the height of his play Babbel was the best RB in the Premier League (yes..he was better than Gary Neville). He could tackle move forward, pass and cut through from the periphery. A great asset to both Liverpool (especially in the 2001 Treble winning season) and Germany Babbel’s career was prematurely ended as a result of a debilitating immune system illness. Had he not been so inflicted I believe that his presence on the pitch would have helped Liverpool avoid the drop off in performance that defined the end of the Houllier era.

10. Shay Given – Playing in goal behind the porous defence that is the Newcastle back four is no easy task. Not only does it invoke images of running across a shooting range when the Marines are engaged in target practice it has to be from a keeper’s perspective an exercise in frustration. Yet Irish national keeper Given played this role for twelve years (354 games) rescuing the Magpies with quiet dignity from many a perilous outcome.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why Trump matters

From my blog....My initial assumption was that Donald Trump was your quintessential Andy Warhol candidate - fifteen minutes of fame and then he would be done (you can add the stick-a fork-in-it analogy if you so please). In fact in my own head I carried a mini-countdown clock as I waited for the time that the Donald would vacate centre stage. I saw him as a nuisance holding a place before the real candidates come to the fore.

However the fifteen minutes are up and if anything Trump is gaining momentum. Lots of it. In fact in a July 15th Washington Post-ABC poll Trump chimed in with 24% of Republican voter support ahead of the 13% for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and fthe 12% associated with former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

While the New Hampshire Primary is not on the cards until February 9th of next year (a lifetime in politics) Trump could by then have easily solidified his grip on large segments of Middle America who fall on the Red side of the political equation. This is the same group that rallied behind Reagan to ensure success for the Gipper in the 1980s primaries and if Trump’s appeal broadens he could easily poach many blue collar democrats in the industrial heartland of the nation (remember Reagan and the Pennsylvania Democrats). This will greatly strengthen a burgeoning base and make him potentially unstoppable.

This all begs the question – What is the appeal of the Trumpmeister? Its clearly not his personality or eloquence for he is obviously wanting in both departments. But unlike any other candidates, Republican or Democrat (with the possible exception of Ted Cruz – who does not have near the name recognition of DT), Trump speaks to the real issues – job loss to Asia, illegal immigration, crime and a deteriorating Union of States. He is not afraid to be politically incorrect and harsh on what he deems to be wrong with the system and he says so with passion. In short Trump articulates the concerns of your average Joe and Jane America.

After the malaise of the Bush era and the stupefying years that have characterized the Obama presidency (possibly the worst in Post-World War Two America) Trump comes across as that much needed dose of necessary oxygen. There is a freshness about him that resonates with the Plebian electorate. While his wealth makes him a man of the establishment he can clearly step out of the fold and argue for the middle class. He is in a sense their champion and they clearly need one.

The nation is beset by fissures - large ones. Americans have been self flagellating for the better part of a decade under an administration that barely recognizes its exceptionality as a nation and is more content in playing to the needs of special interest groups (on issues of race and sexuality in particular) than speaking to the working populace whose engine ultimately drives the country. Rome has been burning and establishment has been fiddling. The US is the greatest debtor nation in human history and the decline is obvious. Enough is enough and herein lies the appeal of Trump.

Whether he will deliver remains to be seen. Are his key points valid? Without a doubt YES and for all of those who value a strong US as the necessary nucleus of an endangered Western Civilization Trump’s talking points must remain at the epicentre of the political debate.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer School

I am at the three-quarter mark in the summer school teaching calendar with the course due to finish on Friday of next week. Summer school is at its core the education equivalent of fast food. It satiates one with a mea' on the quick but cannot, when all said and done, match up to a nutritious home cooked dinner (at least in my household...my wife is a gem).

This is not to say that educators deliver a lesser program. In fact the level of intensity shown by the staff is just as high and indeed more focused as the teaching zeroes in on the specifics of only one course. Summer school teachers at my board jump through hoops to make the program work in a system with no preps and two solid teaching blocks of almost three hours each (separated by a forty five minute lunch break), that stretches to the limit the concept of endurance pedagogy.

However the structure is essentially flawed (hence the fast food analogy). Delivering a semesters work of content in eighteen days of actual teaching is insane regardless if the classroom hours match up on a one-to-one basis (a stat that only a bureaucrat could love). The mantra is go, go, go as the kids are forced to wade through a week's worth of regular school material on a daily basis.

Now for less academically driven courses this may not be problem but in the sciences it is a huge issue. The mastering of concepts is key to all of physics, chemistry and biology (although to a lesser extent the latter as there is more of a memorization component that defines the life science). Concepts take time to process and even more time to solidify in the neural network of the learner. This is a necessary function in advance of the later application/problem solving component that is required from the students. Work in cognitive science has consistently backed up this notion. In short new ideas need to sink in, stew, perculate and then emerge. The brain has to build synpatic connections and these are temporally driven.

Summer school allows for none of this. It can't - the time interval is forcefully expedited and the necessary brain processing is most certainly compromised. So as much as teachers try and maintain the integrity of ther credit (and believe me we do) Summer School ultimately offers an inferior option. There's the rub.

I personally would never recommend Summer School to students who are serious about real learning especially if they are considering taking a course in an area that they intend to follow on a post-secondary level. Best to bite the bullet and work through the regular year/semester original it will pay off in the long run and is well worth it.

The EPL Top Twenty

The birth of the premiership is largely an artificial demarcation point in the history of English Soccer having said that my Top TWENTY since 92/93 - taking into account the metrics of individual performance, contribution to their respective clubs and all around impact on the game as an evolving dynamic are:1. Ronaldo 2. Shearer 3. Henry 4. Schmeichel 5. Keane 6. Gerrard 7. Cantona 8. Scholes 9. Bergkamp 10. Giggs 11. Beckham 12. Aguero 13. Lampard 14. Owen 15. Viera 16. Zola 17. Drogba 18. Suarez 19. Makalele 20. Yaya Toure.

There are lots of United players in the Top Twenty but this is understandable as they have been the overriding force since 93. Suarez should be higher (had he stayed longer) and Torres could arguably oust Toure had he not 'tanked' at Chelsea. Gareth Bale has the potential to be a top twenty player as well but his length of time in the league knocks him out of the top twenty for now.. Ronaldo took the game to a new level and helped United win three titles in a row. He was far and above the top player during his era of involvement.

Other top players knocking on the Top Twenty List include Petr Cech, Robbie Fowler, Ruud Van Nistlerooy, Michael Essien (when healthy), Steve McManaman, Rio Ferdinand, Jaap Stam, Tony Adams, Emmanuel Petit, Jamie Carragher, Sol Campbell and my personal favourite outsider Matt Le Tissier.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

English Football - An overview from the Stratosphere

Year in and year out it is more clear then ever that English Football has fractured into three tiers that notwithstanding the injection of nouveau cash are for all intent of purpose permanent features. The divisions are:

a. The Money Elites – Represented by Chelsea, Manchester City and the queen bee of them all Manchester United, the money elites dominate the game as they simply have far greater financial recourse than their opponents. While Chelsea and City are essentially the product of foreign capital United thrive on a brand that has become the textbook case of how-to-sell your image. Regardless of the methodology the end result is money in the coffer. Lots of it and what better tool than money to eventually buy enough quality players to offset mistakes in the transfer elites. The Money Elites are footer’s powerbrokers. They own the game in a sense, and in a league with no salary or spending caps, will continue to dictate the future results and league silverware having already secured every EPL title since 2005.
b. The Old Guard – Arsenal. Liverpool and Spurs fall into this category. Each team has a formidable football pedigree (although perhaps less so with Spurs) and march into every season with much fan expectation. Occasionally they will push the Money Elites to the brink as Liverpool did in 2014 or Arsenal regularly do but the Old Guards are limited. They are forced to sell in order to buy and despite some clever cost cutting business strategies, particularly by the Gunners, are ultimately governed by more constrained moneybags, that at the end translate into a glass ceiling with respect to league titles. The Domestic cup realm has brought success but the Cups (FA and League) have declined in stature over the last fifteen years and with the obsession of European football, a phenomenon that will unlikely not abate, this is largely an afterthought. Nevertheless these teams still carry the history of old, a reminder of a time when Footer was less vulgar and more focused on activities on the field, than those of the boardroom. A lost era for now and a source of joy for those who enjoy waxing with nostalgia.
c. The Feeder Teams – This designation includes the rest of the Premier League and now fits historically storied clubs like Aston Villa, Everton, Newcastle and West Ham just as well as it does the yo-yo teams of Leicester, West Brom (who seemed to have settled down) and QPR (who will sit out the next season in the Championship but will probably return in 2016 so I will still count them as an EPL hangover). While many of these clubs have developed exciting brands of Football (Swansea and Crystal Palace for example) their principal function is to furnish the bigger boys with quality players, while systematically navigating the expected loss in performance that comes from bleeding your team dry. Southampton seems to have mastered this skill and boasts what is arguably the best academy development system in the English game but unfortunately for their supporters and lovers of a more diverse league these clubs will almost certainly not break the top four let alone win the title. This may change with the arrival of a billionaire saviour who has the wherewithal to transform the club into another Manchester City. However real fans are unlikely to hold their breath in anticipation.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

On Marriage - Lets say goodbye to the State

Gay Marriage, Straight Marriage. Who cares? The state should not be into the business of legalizing marriage to begin with. Lets chalk this up to another revenue/employment boondoggle that increases the reach of government in a way that is both intrusive and unnecessary in a free society. I personally support the institution of marriage, and have voted to the affirmative with my feet but that does not mean that I believe in the need for the state to sanctify my ...relationship status with my wife. Why should I? A marriage bond is a commitment between two people centered on the mutual consent of both parties. Religious oversight may be welcome (it was in my case) but in retrospect it is also not a deal breaker. What is of importance is the presence of a few witnesses to take note and verify the exchange of vows and attest to all proceedings in writing. Nothing more.

Yes I know that there are financial considerations that marriage implies and a state infrastructure may have been necessary at a time to rigidly enforce this but such an argument has become less relevant in an age that continues to see a surge of sui juris marriage (Common-law or marriage by habit and repute) into this arena.

Champions of the state abdicating its role as enforcers of marriage, the Marriage Privatization Movement , have traditionally drawn support from the Libertarian Right. However they have been joined in the last decade or so by small 'l' liberals such as Cass Sunstein, Alan Dershowitz, and Michael Kinsley. This position is also supported as well by Catholic commentator Douglas Kmiec, conservative libertarian Larry Elder and GOP congressmen, Justin Amash and Gary Palmer.

At its core the Movement champions the return of marriage to its natural locus - the married couple - and away from the spotlight of the state by limiting, if not completely eliminating the latter from the agreement.

The stance is both reasonable and refreshing and may rescue marriage from its slide in popularity that has characterized its appeal in the modern era.

As Individualist feminist, Wendy McElroy put it:
'Why is marriage declining? One reason is that it has become a three-way contract between two people and the government'.

If this indeed the case, and there is much evidence to argue the point, then it seems obvious as to which of the three parties should be kicked out of the relationship.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ten Greatest Roman Emperors

1. Augustus
2. Trajan
3. Constantine
4. Marcus Aurelius
5. Vespasian (wasn't great for the Jews though)
6. Aurelian
7. Hadrian
8. Antonius Pius
9. Septimus Severus
10. Diocletian (although some would debate this)

12 Principles that I live by and the respective source that I associate with each

1. Belief in G-d (Judaism)
2. Extension of Self (Judaism)
3. Awareness of Self (Plato)
4. Go with the Flow (Taoism)
5. Celebrating the Present (Mindfulness)
6. Not being afraid to feel (Psychology)
7. Thinking Critically (Scientific Rationalism)
8. Champion Liberty (Classic Liberalism or Burkian Conservatism)
9. Gratitude (Judaism)
10. Having Principles (Amalgamation of many philosophies - Marcus Aurelius wrote a lot on this topic)
11. Action to Inform Thought (Scientific Empiricism)
12. Hardship as a source of strength (Nietzsche)