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 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.