Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Responding to Science Questions I - From Facebook

The following are a list of some questions that I have responded to on various scientific issues.

Question: When a baby is within the womb, if something happens that it doesn't like (tickling of mother's stomach, etc.) it will kick to assert itself. So if a newborn being can acknowledge that it is discomforted, why can't a neuron, proton, etc; make conscious decisions?

My response: The baby is responding to a type of stimuli (tactile). This does not require conscious thought. As is the case of a plant. On a reductionist level it is merely the interplay of a number of inputs with consequences driven by the Laws of Physics. Why questions aren't really scientific. Essentially metaphysical and can always be answered by the retort 'Why not?' Science at its core is largely concerned with the 'How' which may approximate the 'Why' if the evidence is there.

Question: Plants move themselves towards light sources for nutrients. I believe that plants can think as well as any being. Matter makes up everything; we know this. So what proof has been discovered that matter needs to fully form into something BEFORE it can gain the ability to think? Look at white blood cells: They sense dangerous matter within the bloodstream, and they attack. They also just exist when there is no danger. Is there an argument that cells cannot think as well?

My response: We have no evidence that regular matter acts with conscious intent. We can't prove it but then again science does not deal with proof. It is an inductive rather than a deductive process. Yes we should open ourselves to the possibility that this is true but the lack of evidence seems to indicate that this is highly unlikely. It is also important not to confuse a response to stimuli with conscious intent. Plants growing towards the light are demonstrating a response to stimuli known as phototropism. It can be explained by chemical recourse only.

Question: Matter within the wave function, has the ability to think and make conscious decisions, as we can see from it's actions once an observer is entered into the equation (Double Slit Experiment). I am curious to know if anyone else believes that it is possible that matter can ultimately choose what the observer perceives it to be, BEFORE it is being observed, and the wave function has collapsed.

My Response: Human beings can think and make conscious decisions but this is not a property of matter itself. It is an emergent functionality that has developed within our species as a result of evolutionary selection pressure. You have reversed the Copenhagen explanation. It is the action of the observer that impacts the result, not the matter itself under observation, acting with conscious intent.

Question: Would light change form if you could slow it? And when does heat energy become light energy?

My response: The speed of light changes depending on the optical medium that it is traveling through. It only travels at c in a vacuum. When moving from one medium to another it's frequency remains constant but it's wavelength changes. Visible light is a very small part of a family of waves that define what is known as the electromagnetic spectrum. These include gamma rays, x rays, microwaves, Infra red, ultraviolet, radio waves etc. All travel at c in a vacuum but have different frequencies and wavelengths. They all have associated magnetic and electric field vectors and propagate perpendicular to the direction of each of those two vector fields. Electromagnetic waves do not need a medium to propagate. They are very different to sound waves which are essentially pressure waves, Heat is a term that is used in thermodynamics to describe a general transfer of energy. It occurs via conduction, convection and radiation with the latter facilitated by the action of Electromagnetic waves.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

15 Books on Physics that I recommend reading (if you have time of course).

1. The Elegant Universe – Brian Greene - excellent introduction into the fundamentals of Modern Physics.
2. Hyperspace – Michio Kaku - wonderful take on extra-dimensions by a strong narrator.
3. The Ideas of Physics – Ernest Hutten - an oldie but a goldie – discusses key ideas that shaped the discipline.
4. Fearful Symmetry – A. Zee - Looks at the Beauty in Physics.
5. Physics of Immortality – Frank Tipler - a bit over the top but highly entertaining nevertheless.
6. Theories of Everything – John Barrow - Low key but well written.
7. Feynman Lecture Series – Richard Feynman - A struggle for the lay person but if you can get through a third of it your effort will be rewarded.
8. The Trouble with Physics – Lee Smolin - an important critique of the group think that has encroached on the discipline.
9. Physics – Douglas Giancoli - Doesn’t matter what the edition is its treatment of classical physics is praiseworthy.
10. The Flying circus of Physics – Jearl Walker – Challenging problems that force one to really think deep.
11. Relativity Simply Explained – Martin Gardiner – Its title says it all.
12. The First Three Minutes – Steven Weinberg- Still one of the best treatments of the Big Bang.
13. The Constants of Nature – John Barrow – Delves into the details of these definitive constants that so encapsulate our universe.
14. Thirty Years that Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory – Gamow is a great storyteller and he didn’t disappoint with this useful read.
15. 50 Physics Ideas – Joanne Baker – Lots of fun and really easy to read.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Trump Phenomenon - Whenceforth does it emerge?

Trump's lead is slipping but it still intrigues me as to where his support is coming from. Social conservatives prefer Cruz and to a lesser extent Carson (whose numbers are going down as well) and the establishment seems to be rallying around Rubio (now that Jeb Bush is sinking). Trump's business background may appeal to fiscal conservatives (FCs) but many FCs would be turned off by his rhetoric on other topics.

My sense at the moment is that Trump is essentially cutting across all strata and is drawing heavily from the Libertarian and Angry White Male base who feel rightly alienated from a system that under the Obama years has not served them well. In a way this makes his appeal very powerful as it draws support from groups that can shift between parties. It is the Ross Perot grouping plus more and that more, includes a substantial portion of the forty percent of Americans who don't normally vote in elections.

I prematurely predicted (like so many) that Trump's candidacy would fizzle out but it hasn't. He continues to press hot button topics that both party elites have refused to confront and has juxtaposed his position as a breath of fresh air against a system well on the way to decline. I would not wish to see him as President but his Jacksonian appeal will resonate with those who see themselves disenfranchised by a Hamiltonian consensus. This is not an insignificant number of souls and unless the establishment takes these voices seriously such undercurrents will threaten the integrity of the Union. Trump may be just one in a series of 'warnings' that are likely to follow in the future. However compounded over time they can erode, divide and bring down the center.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Dualism within me

Not sure for certain if others here feel the same way but I expect that many do. I have always considered myself a rational person. Logic and reasoning and a healthy dose of skepticism dominates my thinking. Many years of immersion in the sciences have definitely played a key role in my personal evolution but so has the writing of Hume, Burke, Mills, Russell and in the more modern context Hansen and Dalrymple. On the surface I should be a strong agnostic yet I find that as much as I try, I cannot free myself from a spirtualism (perhaps mysticism..I even have a fondness Kabbalah) that I should theoretically reject.

I believe, although with limited scientific evidence, in an essence that extends beyond the physicality of the matter/energy universe and even though I cannot quantify or even qualify its being, its presence seems real. Perhaps this is a function of my individuality (so defined by my genetics and environmental history) but as much as I have tried to shrug off its presence and succumb to scientific materialism and the logical consequence of atheism I simply cannot. To do so would be untrue to myself just as much as an adoption of religious orthodoxy and blind worship flies in the face of who I am. I have tried to reconcile these two pillars but such attempts seem contrived so at best I operate under the avenue of separate domains. Acknowledging that there may be fusion on an objective level somewhere but content to treat the dualism as a outgrowth of my subjective challenge.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Think for Yourself

Over the years I have learnt that all issues are not as clear cut as their champions make them out to be and in virtually every case your personal take is at best the optimum stance using the pertinent information available at the time. While it is necessary to have principles it is equally important to listen to contradictory standpoints, which is why the free flow of ideas is so critical to any debate. I have changed my stance over the years on several issues and will likely do so in the future. While my tendency is to favour positions on the center-right of the political spectrum it certainly doesn't define my take on every issue (not by a long way). However I have noticed over the years that the moment one favours a particular left-right position on a single topic people naturally assume that you have to buy into the rest of the smorgasbord of ideas associated with that side of the political spectrum. This is ridiculous and incredibly short-sighted. While some people may order off a set menu of positions associated with a certain ideology I certainly don't and will continue to advocate for the most important of all notions ie. Think for Yourself.

Anger Man

There are a lot of very angry people out there. Earlier today some guy accused me of not looking where I was going despite the fact that he was driving like a maniac and literally missed t-boning me in the parking lot. He then charged my car with eyes blaring and steam literally coming out of his nose (after giving me an obscene gesture) and dared me to hit him (he actually had his kid in the car beside him which is even more pathetic). I told him that he wasn't worth the effort. He then continued to demand that I hit him and that if I did I would be on the floor (clearly he was not a PR type of guy). I rolled up my window and drove away. I am not a violent person and if I had to resort to violence I would pick my fight. This was not worth it and I acted accordingly. Yet the incident left me rattled and I spent the next half an hour back home 'googling' videos of white guys going wild with road rage. Funny thing is that this happened outside a bagel store and the guy seemed to be a member of the tribe. Bizarre. Not sure how to interpret this at all but some people have serious anger management issues. I pity the woman who is married to this guy.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hillary vows not to use the term Illegal Immigrant

I don't believe that there is anything wrong with this term. Some immigrants are legal others are not. A nation has every right to determine which people it allows into its country. I am not even sure whether Hillary believes in her apology (it wouldn't surprise me as she is documented liar and possibly a sociopath) but clearly her remarks here are designed to appeal to the party's powerful left wing base. The U.S. can do so much better than electing Hillary as its next president. If she does become POTUS it will be a great shame for that her scandal ridden legacy should be associated with the first female President of the US.

Reports on Turkey buying oil from ISIS

Plot thickens but it makes complete sense. Erdogan is using ISIS to expand Turkish clout in the region at the expense of Iran. ISIS also serves a role in fighting the Kurds who are of course a thorn in Turkey's side as well. Remember that ISIS wants to recreate the caliphate of yesteryear which was basically represented by the Ottoman Turks for the latter part of the last millennium. Modern Turkey is the successor to the Ottoman and it wouldn't surprise me if Erdogan has ambitions in this regard. His policies towards Israel clearly indicate that he intends to lead the Sunni vanguard against the Jewish state (Iran is responsible for the Shi'ite effort) which is always a useful strategy to unite Muslim voices. He will joust with the Gulf State on this issue but he has more of a military footprint. An immediate problem for now is that Turkey is a NATO member (legacy of the Cold War). It is therefore in the best interests of the West that Turkey be booted from this organization (or at least pushed to the sidelines). The country is not aligned with Western interests which is ultimately what NATO stands for.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Economist

I was an avid reader of the Economist in the 90s. The articles were generally well written and informative which definitely appealed to me. That they reflect a certain form that punches from the top is an immediate observation and after a while one can start reproducing with ease the magazine's trademark literary style. However I grew tired of the Economist and by 2000 or so I ended my subscription. Part of the problem with the Economist (as its name indicates) is that it ten...ds to view every almost all political issues through the prism of finance and commerce. While this can be useful at times I find it overly reductionist, lacking in the human element and dismissive of the complexities of history that almost always extend beyond such a model. I also found their cheerleading of Free Trade as a global panecea - a position that I have very much lost sympathy with - to be tiresome and off base. In a sense the Economist is the voice of right-of-center internationalism. It is the ideas and thoughts of the Davos elite and it reflects a nihlism that at times cynically and unecessarily scoffs at the traditions of Western Civilization.I find this postition odious. Now this is not to say that I won't read the magazine again (in fact I purchased one at the Airport last week) as it is more palatable in smaller doses but there is only so much of its armchair pontificating that I am willing to tolerate on a more consistent level.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

World Cup Rugby - Kiwis take Webb Ellis Trophy

The New Zealanders have managed to repeat as World Cup Rugby Champions after defeating the Aussies 34-17. Hardly a surprise as the level of depth and all around excellence of the Kiwis was outstanding. On a broader level though the 2015 tournament was a much improved version of 2011 with admirable performances by Argentina, Scotland and Japan adding to an electrifying mix. England disappointed but it was partly to be expected given their locale in the Tournament's Group of Death. As for the Boks - they leave the tournament with dignity after a humbling defeat at the hand of the Cherry Blossoms in their opening game. They pushed the New Zealanders to the final whistle and did well to secure a third place overall finish. Full results did well to refelect the order of power in today's World Rugby theatre. Pretty much as you were.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Rugby World Cup 2015 - South Africa goes home.

The Boks lost 20-18 in a game that could have gone otherwise. However in all fairness to the ABs they were the better team. The Kiwis had two tries to South Africas none and except for a brief period at the beginning of the game dominated possession. I fully expect the ABs to win the World Cup however their Achilles heel of penalties shipped to the opposition may be their undoing. From South Africa's point of view the Boks defended very well against arguably one of the greatest teams of All-Time and despite the loss against Japan in the opening round (largely academic) will leave England with their heads held high. Great recovery. As for the match - it was a bruiser battle between the fowards with very little open play. Not a collector's item but intense all the way to the final whistle. Player of the Match - Dan Carter. Inspired substitution - Sonny Bill Williams.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Arguing with Liberals

The following is my response to an American Liberal who insists that Obama ia great economic president, that the stimulus package was not a key contributor to the debt and that Obama should only really be responsible for debt growth consistent with legislaion that he alone introduced.He also thre in 911 for good measures plus the dreaded tax cuts that Liberals love to go on about.

To Jeff

From what it looks like you are attempting to defend Obama by saying that he should only be responsible for added debt that occurred as a result of specific legislation that he introduced. This of course bypasses the full picture. In fact if that were the case then one could argue that the entire Housing Crisis and the subsequent crash rests at the feet of Bill Clinton. Clearly this makes no sense as the executive must take responsibility for all debt levels that grow under their watch. To quote Harry Truman (my all-time favourite President believe it or not) ‘the Buck stops here’.

I had to chuckle at the way you said that ARRA was ‘only’ 800 billion. In actuality an extra 100 billion was added later to this number for a total spending that is greater than the GDP of all but 15 of the 195 nations on this planet. This drove spending levels through the roof. In fact in raw terms this stimulus package accounted for one out of every seven dollars spent that year and was more or less equivalent to the total spending of the much parodied Reagan budget of 1985. Don’t forget that to spend 800 billion greenbacks the US was forced to borrow heavily and this in turn added to debt repayment demands which ultimately impact any future budget. Therefore viewing the ARRA as a once in a life deal is short sighted especially when stimulus money impact recurring initiatives.

The ACA did not contribute to debt in 2009 but it has certainly added to spending ever since its rollout (failed websites and all). In fact the Urban Institute and Brookings (hardly right wing organizations) expect spending to increase by a full 1.1 trillion between now and 2020 if current trends hold. The ACA will no doubt impact this.

The tax cut argument had some merit circa 2001-2003 when tax revenues dropped below the two trillion mark but by 2005 they were up to levels that far exceeded the Clinton years (2.5 trillion versus 2.0 trillion under Clinton). However the tax cut argument simply carries no weight in the long run and if anything it helped accelerate a more rapid recovery from the 2001 recession than did the far more intrusive and wasteful ARRA whose efficacy may have even delayed the 2008-2009 ‘mini-depression recovery’.

911 and the Iraq war did increase spending and I will not deny this but that is a debate for another time. Should the US have acted as they did? Perhaps yes? Perhaps not? Would Al Gore have acted differently? Who can tell? Obama has had his fair share of foreign exploits as well. Libya comes to mind as have some of the limited and ineffective forays into Syria.

As mentioned in an earlier post spending still remained high between 2010 and 2014 (long after 911 and Iraq were dominant items). Also one cannot dismiss increased welfare spending. It eats up a considerable amount of tax revenue and has grown considerably in the Obama years as U6 unemployment has soared.

Nevertheless thanks for the rebuttal. I appreciate a good counter-argument. Quick question - Any thoughts on Solyandra and Cash-for-Clunkers?

The kid with the clock in a briefcase...

I stand corrected. This kid is a genius. After duping both Obama and the Liberal establishment (arguably not that difficult a task) with a half-baked clock in a briefcase, that looked suspiciously like a bomb, he now has a scholarship in Qatar to boast of. Add that to his tea time meeting with the Sudanese Butcher of Darfur (a war criminal by every measurable standard) and it appears as though the lad is on a role. Great news for him, tough work for the next sod who has to deal with a real threat in the future. CAIR must be loving this. Nothing like advancing the Stealth Jihad by paralyzing your opponent's ability to react.

Early thoughts on Canadian election results 2015

In a way it feels as though Canada wanted its Obama moment and in Trudeau they may have that. He certainly came across as the most charismatic of the three leaders and if glib superficiality is a yardstick he played the card with remarkable prowess. Now we will see how he governs.

Based on a historical record of broken Liberal promises I expect Trudeau to drop, or at the very least backpedal, on the notion of a tax increase for the wealthy. While such promises makes for great election fodder, when forced into real application rarely bring to the fore the desired effect. Trudeau knows this as do the Laurentian elites who have been guiding Grit politics for the last century. His recent pull back from military action in Syria is consistent with an election position but is somewhat meaningless in a theatre where the Russians have already forced themselves onto the stage as the leading act.

However our new man from Montreal will have his greatest hands filled with a strong Quebec caucus who helped turn the tide against the NDP and will certainly demand their share of paybacks as they have done with all recent PMs of Québécois extract - PET, Mulroney and Chretien. Expect the once dormant sovereignty issue (three backburners removed under Harper) to resurrect itself. Anyway we shall wait and see - if nothing else it will make for some great spectator sport.

On Climate Change - What Most bothers me.

In my opinion the greatest tragedy of the climate change debate is science itself.

To begin with Science is never settled...period (sorry Al Gore, David Suzuki, George Monbiot, Naomi Klein et al). Even if the overwhelming consensus of opinion points in a certain direction one can never close the book on science itself (hell even Newton's seemingly rock solid Law of Universal Gravitation had to be reworked using the better model of General Relativity).

In fact any scientific position is at least one verified experiment away from a possible reduction to the trash heap of bad ideas. Ideas once believed to be sacrosanct - caloric theory of heat, organic vitalism, blended inheritance, impossibility of heavy than air travel - confirm this reality. Each of these had popular support and were in vogue amongst the 'consensus' but failed to stand up to the evidence. Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) may be another example. The jury is still out on this one.

As somebody with a science background my biggest criticism of AGW is that the hysteria around it has been driven by a tremendous faith in scientific mathematical modelling. While successful in certain areas mathematical modelling is highly dependant on the parameters and boundary conditions that the modeller inputs into a system. Tweak these parameters in different ways and one can obtain virtually any result you wish. In short they are subject to the bias of the scientist who in many a case are not as objective as they should be (are any humans for that matter?).

The other problem with the AGW hypothesis is that some of the early work on which it rests has been driven by shoddy science. Michael Mann's Hockey Stick graph is the obvious example (it has been debunked) but so are the flawed understanding of cause and effect that put the cart before the horse in misinterpreting the carbon dioxide/temp lag time. IPCC reports are often filled with errors and contrary to the voice of its apologists does not represent the consensus that its advocates would have you believe.Many of those who signed on to it often didn't read the report in its entirety.

This is not to say that one should deny AGW but at the very least we should challenge those advancing AGW as the key driver for Climate Change to provide better evidence. At present they are lacking in this regard and this is unfortunate. As voting citizens we are all entitled to this as the issue appears to dominate much debate and decision making with respect to contemporary Environmental Policy.

Contrary to the voices of derision you are not being 'anti-science' and are in actuality more in step with the natural sceptism that ultimately makes science successful as an enterprise. Deference to authority is after all not a characteristic of modern science. Nor should it be.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

More thoughts on Stephen Harper and the Canadian election 2015

When push comes to shove I have found that most opponents of Stephen Harper (at least those at the center of the Canadian political spectrum) can rarely put their finger on the specifics of his policies that they don't agree with. Most (and I have spoken to many) simply tell me that they believe its time for a change and that there is 'something' about the man that they don't like.

Fair enough. One is not obliged to like everyone (I know that there are several individuals who initiate a gag reflex in me) but change often carries with it a double-edged sword.Change can be negative and one should be careful for what one wishes as there is always the risk of getting it.

Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, Canadians are still well respected throughout the world. The country boasts a strong education system, solid healthcare (although not perfect), a high level of economic freedom and is still regarded in survey after survey as one of the best places in the world to live. Everyday I thank my good fortune for having immigrated to this country.

In addition the recent budget showed a worthwhile surplus and while the Canadian dollar is relativity low compared to the greenback I don’t believe that Harper and co. have much control of this - just as Jean Chretien and the Liberals were not to blame for the low loonie during the late 90s. Such a value is a consequence of a global free currency market. On the flip side at least it encourages export of Canadian produced goods and resources.

Now it is true that all is not perfect but then again when has it ever been? The Pierre Trudeau years were rocked by economic mismanagement, regional fighting and a constitutional crisis that almost brought the country to its knees. The same (although somewhat to a lesser extent) personified the era of the pseudo-Conservative Brian Mulroney.

Jean Chretien’s tenure in office saw us waiting anxiously into the wee hours of the night, wondering if we would wake up in a united Canada after the closeness of the Quebec referendum (Thank G-d for the island vote). Many are quick to forget this, just as they overlook the sponsorship scandal, the helicopter boondoggle, the Suharto debacle, the kick backs to Shawinigan and other all too frequent low points that coloured the Liberal years.

Stephen Harper is not some kind of reactionary. His economic policies are no different on a grand scale from either Mulcair or Trudeau Jnr. and he is essentially a Neo-Keynesian in outlook (albeit with a smattering of Freddy Hayek thrown in for good measure). In short he is not a Canadian supply-sider and while he has used economic incentive (such as tax refunds) to stimulate growth he is certainly falls far from the mark in being a Milton Friedman caricature . In fact on many an economic issue he is not all to different from....dare I say it.… Hillary Clinton.

One could of course argue that Harper is a bit aloof and he certainly is not in any danger of winning a personality contest but why should that be the guideline for a PM? The country needs leadership and commitment to principles – not Canadian Idol points. Looking good in boxer shorts is not a requirement. Nor is the politics of class warfare that seem great in speech but are very divisive in practice and all too often define Liberal politics (at least on the surface).

Yes Harper runs a tight caucus but so did Jean Chretien. I will never forget how John Nunziata was shepherded out of the Grits for having the temerity to question Chretien’s about-face on the GST which he had originally opposed during the Mulroney years. Sheila Copps also stepped on some toes over the same issue.

Unfortunately this is how politics works in Canada especially when one has a merging of the executive and the legislative arms in the construct of a majority government. The alternative can be worse. Mulroney ran more of a loose caucus and paid the price in seeing his party splinter along several fault lines (I suspect the same would happen under Mulcair in the unlikelihood of the NDP taking power, as his support comes from several disparate factions)

Now this is not to say that I am completely taken by Harper. I for one would have liked to have seen more positive changes to the nature of our Senate (an elected body is necessary) and greater tax reduction initiatives under his tenure (not just the smoke and mirrors that all three parties advocate). I would have also opted to see a sell off of the CBC and less big government spending overall. Welfare reform, especially designed to curb the abusers is most welcome, but was sadly pushed to the sidelines.

Nevetheless the PM did great work with the income splitting initiative and this he should be commended. He also stood firm in not pandering to the demands of social conservatives and thereby avoided giving life to the now failed ‘Hidden Agenda’ argument that the Left shrieked about before Harper took office.

However what I most like about the PM is that he actually believes in Canadian exceptionality. He understands that Canada is a society that has been built on the fundamentals of western liberal thought and has certain non-negotiable hallmarks that define it as a consequence of its history. He does not need to compromise to placate some moral relativism. He realizes, that even though our nation is driven by an expanding immigration base, we will only survive as a people if we have key principles that rise and take precedence over all else. This is not to say that we don’t celebrate our distinct cultural differences, but that when they clash with values that define the essence of what Canada is we must go with the standards that have made our great nation the entity that it is. I therefore applaud him for making this front and center of his policy in office and wish him well on October 19th.

Free Market Liberals - some thoughts

Many Free Market 'Liberals' (not be confused with Classic Liberals) are in a sense the followers of a right wing version of universalism.They tend to be trapped in the now, with an eye on the future, but with complete disdain for the past. Its though they were birthed and set running on the spot. History is negated as it overcomplicates a convenient way of thinking and 'hard work as an ideal' is substituted as it reinforces the paramountcy of economics as a the ultimate driver. However my experience with free market Liberals is that they are often rooted in a self-centering impulse that appears to place them above all that there is. I am not sure if this reflects a reluctance to explore issues on a deeper level or to just place themselves in a position where they can shoot darts at all sides of the political spectrum. Nevertheless they have much pull on a global level as their way of thinking is consistent with the Davos Elite and those who champion the 'apparent' pragmatism of Free Trade and Open Borders.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Gun Control, Mass Shooting etc.

The tragedy at Oregon’s Umpqua College last week is yet another diabolical example of the all too common mass shooting that seem to grip the nation with unfortunate regularity.
Predictably there is the expected fallout. One side will argue for greater gun control as panacea while the other with do its best to negate such a stance. Such posturing from both sides only distorts the issue and detracts from the essence of the problem.

While it is critical that individuals be allowed to defend themselves it is also important that due diligence be carried out to safeguard against the acquisition of weapons by those whose motivation and psychological profiles could potentially pose a risk to society. While no predictor test is perfect, requiring those, who are intent on purchasing a firearm, to pass a background check system makes sense.

Such a system currently exists in the US and goes by the acronym NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System). It was launched by the FBI in 1998 on a mandate from the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993).

When researching this topic I was under the impression that the background system itself was not thorough enough. In fact one often hears about how easy it is to acquire a gun in the US (Michael Moore loves this meme). This all begs the question – Who in fact is a prohibited person? Or on what grounds is the Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) rejected?

Both the NICS and Brady Act are very clear on this issue.
A prohibited person is one who:
· Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
· Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
· Is a fugitive from justice;
· Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
· Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
· Is illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
· Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
· Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
· Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;
· Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence

· In addition persons are prohibited from:
· Shipping or transporting any firearm or ammunition in interstate or foreign commerce;
· Receiving any firearm or ammunition that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.
So indeed the Act appears to be fairly exhaustive on the surface and should with all intent of purpose deny a firearm to those with problematic backgrounds. Why then does it appear to be failing?
Well for one its practical application is subject to the foibles of human oversight and poor implementation at the grassroots level. Both the Charleston Church shooter and the Lafayette killer appeared to have slipped through its systems of checks.
Also the law is not universal in that it does not impact the sale or transfer of guns between private parties. Nor does it appear to prohibit the stockpiling of weapons by a singular person for distribution at a later date. It also has limited efficacy in the transition of legal weapons to the illegal kind, which in turn fuels the criminal market.
So what is the solution? Its not easy. Human error in background checks seems to be a function of processing volume which in turn relates to overall demand. The same is true of the flow through to criminal elements. So the bigger question is how does one reduce demand? Levelling higher taxes on guns make partial sense, but it has the potential to be drastically undercut by the black market and if not handled properly will needlessly impinge on legitimate gun owners. Combining this with greater restrictions on third party sales is a better option, as is the establishment of a tax refund program for the return of weapons. Required gun training upon the purchase of a new firearm is an avenue which should be looked at as well.
Despite the rhetoric gun deaths across the US have dropped overall in recent years (although it still stands at over ninety deaths per day) but the frequency of the mass slaying by ‘wannabee’ fame seekers’ is on the rise.
This reflects more of a deeper rot in society that although made easier by access to gun does not capture the broader issue. What most certainly drives these killers is anger, vengeance and the personal failure of an individual to place in perspective their unique struggle. Couple that to a society built on the trappings of crassness, contempt for the other, perceived victim hood, a glorification of violence and its virtual legitimization (in some quarters) and you have a recipe for such unfortunate incidents.
While it is easy to blame guns this often side steps the more important (although not currently in vogue) notion of human responsibility. The individual committing the crime must be called out. At the end of the day these killers made the conscious choice to pull the trigger and the fault, although aided by externalities, should be placed squarely at their feet.
These incidents will continue to occur so long as both sides focus obsessively on guns as the key driver. What is most needed is a realization by all parties that each needs to moderate their polarizing positions and allow greater flexibility for meaningful discussion and action on an issue that is crying for compromise and a greater depth of useful analysis.

The Martian - A Review

I finally saw the movie The Martian which on one level seems to be the third part in a trilogy of space movies that have been made over the last three years (the best of these was Interstellar – 9/10 - the worst Gravity - 6/10).

As far as movies goes it was a solid effort that spoke well to the subject matter even if some of the science appeared to be somewhat suspect.

The cinematography was excellent and although I did not see the movie in 3-D (which doesn’t bother me) I was still captivated by the design and operation of the mother ship that did well, in true 2001 Space Odyssey mode, to capture the rotating system necessary to produce the sensation of gravity.

Matt Damon is an average actor but he did well to carry off a role that portrayed him as cool, rational and humorous under pressure. This diffused tension when it was most needed. None of the other actors stood out but then the movie did not lend itself to any brilliant individual performance.

As a champion of Space Exploration, I take heart from The Martian as it worked in earnest to show the dynamism of a NASA space program as it COULD be – not how it actually is at the moment which is a story of pathos.
Science solved problems and overcame obstacles and the movies did its best to depict this even if some of the solutions, such as the blast off from Mars and the link up in space, were unrealistic.

While the necessary elements of International cooperation were stressed (a joint effort with China for example– which seems unlikely in today’s context) The Martian (although overly pc in its depiction of ethnic diversity amongst the NASA elite) did not extend into the realm of scientific preaching that often runs as a common theme in movies that all too often center on such issues as Climate Change for example.

In short it was a film worth viewing and despite its length (well over two hours) I believe that it met the necessary expectations.

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?

Friday, August 14, 2015

George Takei

I have never understood this fascination with George Takei. He is not particularly witty and barely says anything of substance. In fact his racist comments about Clarence Thomas were downright despicable. Yet his words are reposted time and time again. What is the appeal of this guy? He wasn't much of an actor (lets face it he played third fiddle in an over hyped science fiction show that kept reminding us that most aliens speak english with an American accent) and is hardly an intellectual giant. Yes he is gay but so is Derek Jacoby and you don't see people fawning over the latter (Jacoby by the way is streets ahead of Takrei in the acting dept and is arguably one of the greatest actors of his generation). So what gives with this dude? Why all the fanfare?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

In praise of 'me-time'

One of the discoveries of growing older is the realization that time itself is extremely valuable. When one was younger, time seemed as plentiful as the atmosphere. It was there it was available and it seemed to last forever.
Then the milestone of forty kicked in and something triggered inside me. There are only twenty-four hours in a day and one needs to use them wisely.
Now in my case I know exactly the cause of this trigger. Essentially it was the onset of fatherhood that had ambushed me at thirty-seven and was redefining my persona with each passing moment. However it was only at forty that this realization became intellectually apparent.
Maybe I had blocked it out for a while but now in a brief respite I could contemplate what it truly was. It wasn’t time that was the problem but a deficiency of ‘me-time’ the opportunity to retreat and ‘be alone’ to charge one’s battery and escape even for a while the realities of adulthood.
Its not that this ‘me-time’ is better than any other time for most of my greatest moments are spent with my family but for somebody who is naturally introverted such ‘me-time’ is critical to my functioning. Supply it at the right amount and I function optimally on all fronts. Take it away and I cease to be the best version of Gavin that I can be.
So in a sense I place great value on ‘me-time’. It is currency in my life whose value seems to appreciate with age.
I am sure others feel the same way. It’s a healthy selfishness but one that when all said and done is extremely necessary.

Monday, August 10, 2015

OCD - The Early Days

I think that I can safely say that I have been dogged by OCD for all of my life. Its exact time of birth still remains uncertain but my earliest memories of an OCD related event most likely occurred at around age five. As a young kid I valued neatness, my room had to be organized in a definite pattern that conveyed a sense of purpose. Smaller books to larger books, toys arranged with decorum, order over chaos - structure dominating randomness. Symmetry over imbalance. Things had to be a certain way or else I was haunted by the dread of imperfection.

Once I was forced to leave in a hurry and my mom helped pack up the toys. Unfortunately she failed to return them all to their correct spot. I was haunted by the break in the natural that such recklessness conveyed. For hours afterward I ruminated on the consequence of such folly as I wondered with desperation on the severity of the misdeed.
This was one of many such actions that would linger in my mind especially if the circumstances prohibited (for some time) physical correction of the error. Such was the perilous equilibrium upon which the world’s fortune hung.

Later on my obsessions spread to cleanliness. Germs were everywhere and I loathed the notion that I a may be infected. Touching anything that appeared to be remotely unclean was a harbinger of disease and I constantly needed confirmation from my parents (more my mom than my dad) that I not fallen under the influence of some diabolical pox. I never did – clearly my immune system was tougher than I gave it credit for. However at the time this rarely mattered. For all intent of purpose I was the equivalent of a ‘Dead Boy walking’.

As I matured my fear of the unclean would be compounded by a need to wash and purify. I subjected my hands to endless episodes of vigorous of scrubbing that invariably caused them to chafe and redden. This was my remedy for coping with the infection that on its most diabolical level seemed so very real. Thankfully my mom could see through my actions and coaxed me to quit through a well-posed mixture of delicate reprimand and necessary empathy. My OCD would subside briefly, choked back but waiting behind the door to pounce should the next opportunity present itself.

In a sense OCD is a cunning beast in that it seeks the lowest level of your mental being and then strikes with brazen cruelty. Any doubt that it can latch onto becomes fair game. Once the intrusive thought worms its way into your head and escapes the initial check it stays there clawing at any contentment and magnifying its presence with the immediate passage of time. It can consume and it will for it is resilient.

The only respite, at least in those early days was rest, a clearing of the mind and a retreat to a cerebral space that it could not penetrate. There is an urgent need to re-focus, and I learnt how to do this, while eagerly waiting for the return of some facsimile of peace of mind that at the moment seemed extremely remote.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

England win the Ashes

I was happy to see that England won the coveted cricket Ashes. They have a 3-1 lead in the series which cannot be broken and have defeated the Aussies four times in a row when the cricket series is held in England. Well done lads!! Although I fully expect the boys from Down Under to bounce back when the Series returns to Oz.

Here is an interesting stat. In the 69 Ashes series played since 1883 Australia have won 32. England have won 32 and 5 have been drawn. Nevertheless the Aussies have held the urn for 76.5 years compared to the 53.5 years for England.

An Oldie but a Goldie - My Favourites

My Favourites
For all rankings (1 is the highest and 5 is the lowest)


Areas of Science: 1. Modern Physics 2. Classical Physics 3. Cosmology 4. Evolutionary Theory 5. Psychometrics

Chemists (Top Five): 1. Le Chatelier 2. Mendeleev 3. Dalton 4. Lavoisier 5. Kekule

Physicists (Top Ten): 1. Einstein 2. Newton 3. Schroedinger 4. de Broglie 5. Galileo

6. Bohr 7. Planck 8. Feynman 9. Gell-Mann 10. Maxwell

(Top Five): 1. Wallace 2. Hunt Morgan 3. Darwin 4. Harvey 5. Semelweiss

Philosophers: (Top Ten): 1. Kierkegaard 2. Spinoza 3. Descartes 4. Kant 5. Mills

Economists: (Top Five): 1. Smith 2. Ricardo 3. Friedman 4. Hayek 5. Nash

US Presidents:
1. Lincoln 2. Reagan 3. Truman 4. Jefferson 5. Kennedy

British Prime Ministers: 1. Churchill 2. Disraeli 3. Gladstone 4. Thatcher 5. Lloyd George

Canadian Prime Ministers: 1. Borden 2. Pearson 3. Laurier 4. Harper 5. MacDonald

1. Bradman 2. Pollock 3. Truman 4. Richards 5. Sobers

Boxers (Heavyweights): 1. Louis 2. Marciano 3. Foreman 4. Ali 5. Lewis

Boxers (Non-Heavyweight):
1. Leonard 2. Hagler 3. Mitchell 4. Conteh 5. Robinson

Tennis Players:
1. McEnroe 2. Federer 3. Becker 4. Edberg 5. Kriek

Athletes 1. Sebastian Coe 2. Daley Thompson 3. Ed Moses 4. Usain Bolt 5. Steve Cramm

Friday, August 07, 2015

The Canadian Federal Election 2015

This is the first federal election that I can think of where the NDP actually has a chance of emerging with the most number of seats on election day. The latest tracker that I could find (CBC) put the party level with the Conservatives at 127 seats. (although the NDP is slighly ahead in the popular vote).The Liberals are trailing in third place with 93 seats.

However it is early days in a marathon campaign and in all likelihoo...d the percentages will most likely shift. Muclair is banking on his Quebec numbers holding firm and it looks as though the Bloc is failing to make inroads at the expense of the soft underbelly of his caucus. Muclair also seems to have made gains in BC and the Prairies.

Ontario will be shaped by the battleground fight between the Tories and the Grits. The attack ads seem to have put Trudeau on the defensive and he needs to start acting fast to prevent the bleeding of left of center votes to the NDP. Trudeau has some momentum in the Maritimes but no Canadian election is ever decided in this region of the country.

For Harper, what is needed is a change of strategy. Muclair's loose alliance of Westerners and Quebecers must be undercut. Having a party in government whose critical avenue of support comes from Quebec is always problematic (remember Mulroney - Meech Lake/Charlottetown etc) and Harper should focus on this. Canada can ill afford another constitutional crisis and the Tories would be well advised to push this point with the electorate.

This is going to be a very tough campaign for all three parties with the predictable mudslinging on all fronts. Right of center parties have a tendency to surge at the last moment (Look at Britain and Israel) so I am not panicking but my gut feeling at this stage is that we are heading back into the era of a minority government.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Why Hillary will win in 2016

As it stands the Democrats have on hand the weakest line-up of candidates that the party has offered since the ill-fated 1972 campaign. Hilary Clinton should seal the nomination with ease as her opponents Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb barely look capable of mounting a challenge. Sanders may ruffle some feathers as he attempts to rally the so-called progressive wing of the party but at the moment seems... more set to take stage as the Democratic Party’s version of Ron Paul (a sideshow that in the past has featured the likes of Eugene McCarthy, Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich).

In addition her bid to take the Oval Office is further enhanced by a deeply split Republican party that seems to have fractured along two definitive fault lines each incapable of defeating the Democrats on their own. The party establishment appear to be rallying behind the more predictable Jeb Bush as Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, George Pataki and Chris Christie have failed so far to capture the imagination of the public. In contrast the Tea Party base are gravitating towards Donald Trump with Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Rand Paul remaining in the wings. The two groups are openly hostile towards and the rhetoric is fierce and downright dirty. Dems must be loving every moment of this. Lots of Ammo for the future.

Hillary’s best strategy is therefore to wait this out. Let the Republicans gnaw on each other, allow her Democratic opponents to sink further into the ether of blandness and then step in later to collect the leftovers. So far its working.

This sad truism is that Hillary is a poor choice to lead the nation as she brings to the table a very questionable ethics profile and a mixed record of success in an administrative role. Her political legacy is riddled with scandal (Filegate, Benghazi, Emailgate, Vince Foster, Clinton Foundation snafus, Huma Abedin, Chinagate etc) but like her husband she has an innate ability to wriggle free and avoid the detailed fallout that would certainly tarnish any other politician. She is a survivor per excellence and despite the fact that her bid for the presidency in 2008 was torpedoed by the media-driven Obama frenzy, looks clear this time around to blaze a path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is a reality of the failure of others as opposed to the brilliance of her own platform. However when all said is done she could very well become President by default.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


Every year my wife, the kids and myself embark on our long weekend camping venture. This past weekend represented this year’s instalment. Not being the greatest outdoorsman camping challenges me on many different levels. It is not so much the pure vacation aspect but the feat of moving outside my zone of comfort that I most appreciate. Watching the kids have fun (and they always do) is even more of a reward. Our site this year was the Bon Echo Park (located off Highway Seven going east from Toronto toward Kingston). Like most provincial parks in Southern Ontario it is well delineated, clean and densely populated with humid continental deciduous forest-like vegetation.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon (a bit later than expected courtesy of the traffic exiting the city) and set up shop as soon as possible. Our friends had reached the destination beforehand and assisted us with the tent assembly and site preparation.

Despite the user-friendly nature of the modern tent there are still one or two rods that are remarkably similar and have the tendency to torpedo a well thought out assembly strategy. Ever the theorist the lesson in practicality drawn from this experience is most humbling.

That night we barbecued the required Hamburgers (which I like) and Hot Dogs (which I don’t) as the kids took off with their respective friends – riding bikes, playing on the grounds and taking full advantage of what can only be described as leisure heaven (for them anyway).

Sunday was the day at the beach and boy did we enjoy ourselves. Seven hours or so in the water – canoeing, paddle boating, building sand castles and swimming. Armed with water pistols, the kids sprayed one another (and their father) during a frenzy period of activity uninterrupted by time’s stingy hand. I loved it and so did they. It reminded me of my fortunate childhood vacationing in Durban, Umhlanga Rocks, Cape Town, Muisenberg and George with not a care in the world. We celebrated the air, the water and the blissful feeling of freedom - a life with no worries. This is what I wanted for my own kids and right here on an isolated beach somewhere on Turtle Island they were enjoying the same experience.

The evening events took a bit of a turn for the worse as the storm that was threatening unleashed its torrent of rain that continued throughout the night. Out came the rain ponchos as we huddled under tarps hoping for an end to the onslaught that only came in the wee hours of the morning. However its moments like this that build strength (at least this is what I kept telling myself) and our team of campers held firm against an onslaught of lightning and thunder that at times seemed relentless. The tent leaked a bit but we managed to contain it and although our sleep was not restful we emerged the next morning bedraggled, unkempt and tired but with our spirits still up.

Onward to Monday and of course the clean-up. The kids enjoyed their last moments at the site and I pattered myself on the back knowing that I had once again overcome my own personal OCD demons around dirt and chaos. Despite the weather we had a great time and would do it again in a second for at the end we were together as a family. This is what matters. My wife and I couldn’t have asked for more.

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 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)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Personal Revelation #1

I am driven to contemplate by my personal makeup. Each day I wrestle with problems, churning through ideas and opposing views in my mind. While at time I sense a black/white dichotomy I am more inclined than ever to see the grey nature of being. While certainty would offer comfort there is also a welcome release of pressure in the knowledge that this greyness is just as much a truism of the nuts-and-bolts of the world we live in as is the binary distinction that has framed so much of my early thoughts.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

History Hour #7 - The Egyptian Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom existed between the 27th and 22nd century BC. It was centred on the Nile River and extended southward from the Mediterranean Sea to the town of Elephantine in Upper Egypt. Dynasties three to sixth are included in the Old Kingdom that had at its capital the city of Memphis. Egyptologists believe that the era was defined by prosperity and relative freedom from outside invasion. It is also the period in Egyptian history when independent states fell under the control of the pharaoh who ruled over these administrative territories termed Nomes through the instrument of the Nomarchs (semi-feudal governors).

The pharaoh Djoser was the first king of the Old Kingdom and his reign was characterized by the workings of his influential vizier Imhotep. Egyptian views regarding the cycle of time developed during the third dynasty and the architecture is noted for its Step Pyamids such as the one located in Saqqara.

However it was the fourth dynasty that is associated with the brilliant feats of civil engineering. The Great Pyramid at Giza (dedicated to the pharaoh Khufu), the Khafre Pyramid, the Sphinx, the Bent and Red Pyramids and the Pyramid of Menakaure were all built during this dynasty.

The Fifth and Sixth dynasties had their fair share of building projects as well but there seems to have been a greater shift toward the construction of temples associated with the god Ra.

Despite its focus on trade (particularly in ebony, myrrh, frankincense, gold and copper) the Old kingdom went into decline at the end of the long reign of Pepi II. Civil war ravaged the countryside and this was compounded by a severe drought. The period that followed the Old Kingdom was known as the First Intermediate Period that spanned the seventh to eleventh dynasties.

Walking Dead Spinoff Series - Fear the Walking Dead

I can hardly wait for the series to begin. It looks like it will shed light on the origins of the zombie virus that has engulfed the world in the Walking Dead Universe. It is exactly the prequel that I was hoping for. WD is an amazing series (the comic is even better at times). Not only does the script move at an entertaining pace but the acting and directing are first rate. If you haven't seen an episode. Do so. The first Four Seasons are on Netflix. I was a sceptic at first (thought it was a rehash of George Romero's work - which its not) but the depth of characters and the struggle of regular people to survive in a world gone belly up are brilliantly dealt with by Kirkman and his writer team. Classic.

Top Fifteen Favourite Walking Dead Characters

1. Rick Grimes (both comic and TV)
2. Negan (from the Comics - soon to be on TV...hopefully)
3. Darryl Dixon (only on TV)
4. Morgan (from TV)
5. Michonne (TV over comic)
6. Paul 'Jesus' Monroe (Comic)
7. Hershel Greene (from TV)
8. Shane (TV version only)
9. The Governor (TV not comic version)
10. Carl Grimes (Comic has edge over TV character)
11. Andrea (Comic over TV)
12. Tyreese (TV)
13. Dwight (Comic)
14. Maggie Greene (Comic over TV)
15. Glenn Rhee (TV over comic)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Illegal Immigration

Donald Trump's eloquence leaves much to be desired but he is playing a vital role in keeping this important issue, that both parties have ignored, at the table. The integrity of the borders is key to the nation's long term survival (this was a huge factor in the demise of the Roman Empire).Leftists have predictably muddied the water by turning it into a debate on race. It isn't. What is at stake is first and foremost the rule of law and the cohesion of American society already stretched on so many other levels.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

History Hour #6 - The Unification of Ancient Egypt – The Rise of the Left arm of Western Civilization

Together with Mesopotamia and the Minoan civilization Ancient Egypt looms high as an early progenitor for the West. Centred on the Nile, Ancient Egypt like the Indian Harappan civilizations and the Chinese Xia dynasty was a river-based culture (the former was founded on the Indus River, the latter on the Yellow River)

As the lifeblood of Egypt the Nile was the location of vast agricultural based city states that paralleled those of the Tigris-Euphrates basin. However until the arrival of Menes c.3100 BC they were largely divided into Lower and Upper frames of influence.

Who Menes was is still a source of debate? Some historians argue that he was the proto dynastic pharaoh Narmer. Others believe that he was a first dynasty pharaoh Nor-Aha. The name Menes is attributed to the writings of the Egyptian historian Manetho who lived in the 3rd century BC. In addition there is some disagreement concerning the date of unification of Egypt but the 3100 BC figure seems to be a common figure in use.
While the uncertainty may become less nebulous over time what cannot be denied is that the unification of Egypt would lay down the foundation for a civilization that would play a key role in the dissemination of ideas, technology and political capital for the next three millennia to follow.