Monday, September 18, 2017

Personal Reflection IV - Losing interest in 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 tends 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 panacea - 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 nihilism that at times cynically and unnecessarily scoffs at the traditions of Western Civilization find this position odious. Now this is not to say that I won't read the magazine again  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.

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 36 - Hellenic Age

What was tragic is that Alexander left no successors so that his vast Empire encompassing 5.2 million square kilometres was divided amongst his generals. The divisions would lead to the emergence of four power blocs: Ptolemaic (Egypt), Seleucid (Mesopotamia and Central Asia), Attalid (Anatolia - Turkey) and Antigonid (Macedon). These blocs would war with each (Lamian and Diadochi wars) however the Hellinistic period that followed his death would last for three hundred years and bring with it a certain degree of stability.

It was the first time in history that the Western thought would emerge at least for a time as a dominant influence over the heartland of Eurasia. In the most dramatic of senses Alexander had triumphed over the rival model shrouded in a mysticism that characterized the Persian dominated Zoroastrian outlook

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Personal Reflection III - Some Excellent Graphic Novels

I am a late entrant but have become a strong admirer of the medium of the Graphic Novel. Like regular novels they are largely driven by the quality of writing and story depth but the art work adds an extra dimension that can make the reading a thoroughly worthwhile experience.

Here are a few that I would recommend

1. Watchmen – Along with Frank Miller, Alan Moore is easily the best writer in the comic book world. Watchmen, is an in depth view into the psychology of being a superhero (a topic alluded to by Stan Lee and Miller as well). It is a truly spectacular work (far superior to V for Vendetta - another Moore work) and indicative of Moore’s real genius that I first acquainted myself with, during my teens, when he wrote the Future Shock Series for 2000 AD. Most people are familiar with the movie but the universe that Moore creates which brings us Ozymandias, the second Silk Spectre, Doctor Manhattan, the Comedian, the second Nite Owl and Rorschach is unparalled in its brilliance.

2. Contract with God – Will Eisner is another writer of immense distinction and his examination of Frimme Hersh in A Contract with God is a much needed work of philosophical significance. Eisner writes about tragedy, love and life struggle as seen through the eyes of a Jewish New Yorker trying to make sense of the never ending curveballs that the universe throws at him.

3. 300 – Frank Miller’s 300 is a gripping read from beginning to end. The story recreates, with significant artistic license, the events of the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC). While it shouldn’t be taken as real history the excitement value of this story is incredible. Miller has a legacy of pushing the envelope with his writing and 300 is no exception. Fans of Miller should also read his crime thriller series, Sin City as well as his four-issue resurrection of Batman in the Dark Night Returns. The latter is a must for all-lovers of the caped crusader who is easily the most complex and dynamic of the DC characters.

4. The Stand – This Graphic adaptation of the Stephen King that carries the same name is not that easy to find but does exist in libraries in the GTA. Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sarcasa and illustrated by Mike Perkins (published in 2008) the Stand is divided into six books. It tells the story of the aftermath of a deadly plague that has wiped out most of humanity. The world is divided into camps of good and evil who battle for the spoils of what remains. The story arcs of its many characters (one of which is the demon Randall Flagg – a regular King villain) are filled with twists and turns that weld into a powerful plot devoid of oversig

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 35 - Conquests of Alexander the Great

The Classical Era in Greek History (which lasted for two hundred years between the 5th and 4th centuries BC) was followed by the Hellenic Period that was consistent with the rise of the Northern kingdom of Macedonia as the power centre within the Greek mainland.

Philip of Macedonia defeated the alliance of Thebians and Athenians at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC and brought the city-states under his sphere of influence. To consolidate his power he formed the League of Corinth in 337 BC but it was his son Alexander the Great who did more than anyone to expand Greek influence eastward.

Alexander the Great was arguably one of the most brilliant military figures to grace all of history and was the first true military champion and active expander of the Western ideal. He ruled as King of Macedon for less than thirteen years (336-323 BC) but built a legacy that would persist for centuries after his death.

The greatest success of Alexander, at least on the battle field, were the victories that he recorded over the Archaemenid Persians who were dispatched in a series of battles of which Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela and Persian Gate are the most important. In doing so he captured the cities of Babylon and Susa and absorbed the Persian Empire (up until this point the world’s largest Empire) into his own.

He also campaigned in Egypt, the Levant and the Balkans before driving eastwards into India where he recorded another famous victory at Hydaspes River.

Alexander spread the message of Greek Civilization. He was a personal student of Aristotle and believed in the supremacy of the rationalism of his culture. Yet he was driven by ambition and when this ambition could not go further (his troops actively rebelled when he wanted them to march on to conquer more land) he stagnated, drank himself into an early grave and by the young age of 32 he was to be no more.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Personal Reflection II: An important Letter from the Future to the Past

Dear Art School Admissions Committee
I am writing to you from a future that has witnessed the most destructive war in the history of humanity - World War Two (1939-1945). The chief driver in the European Front of this war was an individual who is currently applying to your art school. His name is Adolph Hitler. While I understand that his work may not be up to the high levels that you demand the consequence of you rejecting him will likely set in motion a series of events which will culminate in the death of tens of million people worldwide and an untold magnitude of destruction.
Hitler is a great orator but he is a tormented soul (which will be further embittered by a rejection from your school). He will take his gift of speaking to the beer halls and streets fermenting a hatred that will transform into a powerful movement known as the National Socialist Workers Party (Nazi). In a deteriorating economy the Nazis will gain enough of the popular vote to take power in Germany and then using the mechanism of government will transform the country into a Totalitarian State that will crush dissent, imprison critics, ban unions and implement a policy of racial genocide based on pseudo-scientific and race directed reasoning.
His desire to obtain Lebensraum will force Germany into an unnecessary war that will devastate your country and indirectly lead to the strengthening of another totalitarian system in Europe (Marxist-Leninism) that will further crush individual freedom for years to come.
You have within you the power to stop this train wreck of events by admitting Herr Hitler to your school, allow him to focus his energy on his art, sooth his soul (or at the very least try) and perhaps save Europe and the rest of the world a bloodshed of unparalled intensity.
Please consider his application very carefully in this regard. As proof of my future presence I include an old Iphone, a piece of technology that people in the year 2016 use to communicate with.
Thank You
Yours faithfully
Gavin Kanowitz (one of the lucky ones)

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 34 - Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Persian and Peloponnesian)

The Greeks were challenged by the superpower that was Persian but emerged with independence after securing victories at Marathon (490 BCE), Salamis (480 BCE) , Plataea (479 BCE)  and Mycale (479 BCE) . A brief setback at Thermoplylae (480 BCE) almost spelt doom but Grecian resourcefulness would save the civilization. In fact the Athenian dominated Delian League would eventually take the War to the Persians own backyard in Asia itself.

City-states frequently clashed as their geopolitical and economic interests overlapped. Alliances and Leagues were formed and the Greek city-states were weakened by a cycle of recurring wars. The Spartans and Athenians fought the Peloponnesian Wars between 431-404 BC which ended in the eventual victory of the Spartans and the dissolution of Athens and its allies (the Delian League). However Spartan’s hegemony was short lived and they in turn would be weakened by a coalition of Greek states that included Thebes, Corinth, Argos and Athens itself during the inconclusive Corinthian War (395-387 BC).

The Western World in 300 Events: Event 33 - Greek contribution to Drama and Sport

Greek thinking was driven by an intense rationalism but they were also great dramatists. The Western play and its initial division into tragedies and comedies derives from a Greek understanding that was reflected in the works of Aeschylus, Phyrnichus, Sophocles and Eurpides (all in the tragedies) and Menader, Plautus and Aristophanes (in the comedies). Comedy itself was divided into the three periods: Old (Satyr), Middle and New. The Thirty Dramatic Situations, outlined by French writer Georges Polti (in the late 19th century) categorizes all dramatic situations and is derived from an analysis of the Greek texts.

The Olympic games represented the pinnacle of Athletic achievement in the Greek World.  776 BCE is cited at the earliest date for these Games and they continued until 394 CE when the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned them. The games were held in honour of the Greek God Zeus and were shrouded in mythology. A military truce remained in effect for the duration of the Games that were held every four years (the inter-Olympic Time period was known as the Olympiad). Some key events that characterized the games included the foot race, chariot race, discus/javelin throws, jumping, running with armour, wrestling and boxing.