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Thursday, November 29, 2007

But sir, I thought seasons were meant to be three months long each?

"It's the white witch that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!"

So sayeth Mr Tumnus The Faun to dear little buck-toothed Lucy upon her falling through the back of the wardrobe into CS Lewis' magical world of Narnia.

Ok, so maybe we do get Christmas, but nonetheless I do feel that CS Lewis had Montréal in mind when he came up with the idea of a world where the snow rests thick on the branches of the trees all year round, where the rivers are perpetually frozen over... where it's always winter and never spring.

I mean, ok, it's only been a couple of weeks now since Montréal's famed winter temperatures have descended to the point that snow is no longer melting. However, the thought that it is going to be like this until the end of MAY is just crazy! I mean, we're not talking about a cold winter here (rumour has it that there is a always a two week period of -40 degree temperatures in February). We're talking about a resetting of the seasons.

I mean what happened when the supreme being was deciding the make-up of the world?

God: Alright Montréal, how's it going?
Montréal: (slouched in his chair, a petulant school boy, his shirt untucked, he chews loudly on a piece of gum) Yeah.
God: (slightly awkwardly) Allllllright. That's good. Now,(looking down at his note pad) last time we spoke we agreed you'd get a bilingual culture. So let's now move on to weather patterns.
Montréal: Whatever.
God: Ok. So do you think you'll be wanting Spring?
Montréal: hmmm... what does it do?
God: Well, uh, flowers will bloom, temperatures will get warmer, animals will generally reemerge and fornicate, ... it's a period of fecundity and rebirth... a new beginning and all that.
Montréal: What's the alternative?
God: Well, if you decided you don't want Spring we could throw in a few extra months of biting cold, horizontal sleet, deathly penetrating wind, and seemingly never-ending snow fall. What do you think?
Montréal: Ummm... yeah we'll go with the death cold and stuff.
God: (taken back) Oh! Ah... right... I mean, you're sure about this? I mean, it's just that no one's ever gone for that option before.... I mean, you're sure? Winter, from November through to May? That's seven months of winter?
Montréal: Yeah.
God: You want seven months of winter per year do you?
Montréal: Yep...Seven months of winter is awesome.
God: Awesome.

ps. God to be played by John Cleese.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

When something's so cringeworthy, it makes you smile.

The following paragraph is from an article in Melbourne newspaper The Age about John Howard's impending loss to Labor candidate Maxine Mckew in his seat of Bennelong. To set the scene, Howard is giving his parting 'I concede we have lost the national election' speech at the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney in front of the Liberal Party faithful. At some point during the function his opposing Labour candidate for the seat of Bennelong, Maxine Mckew, is flashed across the big screen. It's a little like someone carrying a poster advocating gay rights through the centre of Tehran. It's never going to get a positive reaction. Anyway, the article (which you can read in full here) describes the incident in the following way:

"When Ms McKew appeared on giant screens around the Wentworth Hotel ballroom, filmed being feted by the Labor faithful at her Bennelong function, loud boos rang out [amongst the Liberal faithful]. Some Young Liberals abused the Labor candidate, one yelling 'get a facelift, you slag'."

There is something so horribly Australian about this comment. It's so unwarranted, so crass, that it almost makes you want to applaud - really slowly. It's a comment that screams, "for me, whether I've had thirteen beers at a day-nighter at the MCG, or I'm at a national political party function, I pretty much act the same way." As Will Ferrell says in Anchorman "I'm not even angry, I'm impressed". Makes you just want to say, "what was going through your mind just before you decided to say that? What is the thought process there?"

Was it something like this:

"Ok, we've just lost the federal election... that's bad. How can I rectify this? Oh, there's the Labour candidate on the big screen. They reckon she's going to knock off John Howard... hmmm... she's a woman. God, look how happy she is when she smiles... so smug... Like she's better than me... hmph... I've got an idea. (Screams the immortal line: Get a face lift, you slag!)... hehe...Oh yeah!... yeah that's right!... Stay down Mckew! Stay down!... hehe, I reckon that showed her!"

Everybody sing along now. I am... you are... we are... well, you know the rest.

Australian Labor Party sweeps Australian elections

Kevin Rudd: 26th Prime Minister of Australia

Back in 2001 I went to Student Leadership Forum on Faith and Values in Leadership in Canberra. A bunch of pimply faced, zealous students and "prominent community leaders" (I think that is how he introduced himself!), we were gathered in a room to hear the Prime Minister speak about his decision making processes. The room stood to a rather awkward standing ovation as John Howard entered the room, one of those standing ovations where half the room jumps to its feet and the rest sort of gradually pop up out of a perceived obligation to not seem like a bad sport. After the Prime Minister's speech, Liberal Bruce Baird informed us that the then leader of the opposition, Kym Beazley, was not available to speak to us, but that instead we would be hearing from the shadow foreign minister, a guy whom the liberal minister described as being, "one of the good guys, even from our side of politics." That 'good guy', was Kevin Rudd.

Whether based on the strength of policy platforms, or on a deeper discontent with the perceived moral bankruptcy of a government deemed to be out of touch with the Australian public, or based merely on a general feeling of a need for change that seems to be a part of the Australian psyche, Australia has elected Kevin Rudd, leader of the Australian Labour Party as the 26th Prime Minister of Australia. Three years out from a disastrous loss, the Australian Labour Party has bounced back to claim a landslide victory, gaining at least 30 seats to make a total of approximately 86 out of the available 150 parliamentary constituencies (with counting still to be finalised). To add insult to injury, John Howard, our outgoing prime minister, may not even be re-elected in his electorate (in which I grew up) of Bennelong. If he does lose to high profile Labour candidate Maxine Mckew, he will be the first sitting Prime Minister not to be re-elected in his own seat since 1929 when the then Prime Minister Stanley Bruce lost the seat of Flinders.

Politics is a sensitive subject. I don't know whether it's an Australian thing, but it's almost as if we tend to feel more comfortable revealing intimate details about our sexual history than we are revealing our political tendencies. However, I couldn't help feeling slightly more positive about life when I woke up this morning to a cold but sunny Canadian winter day, and read that Labour had won. I'm not necessarily excited that it is Labour that has won, but it's more what they represent at the moment, and that is a party that is prepared to reintroduce the idea of standards to our nation, standards in education, standards in our foreign policy, standards in the way we run the economy. There is some comfort to be drawn from the fact that a market economy will be pursued, but that it will not be pursued at all costs. The fact that Australians may have voted through their hearts and not just through their mortgage, is somehow reassuring.

Former Prime Minister Howard concedes defeat.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

First snow of the year: The first of many...

Avenue de parc
The McGill hospital
The Law Library
The old law faculty building (where I have all my classes)
The LLM Crew (almost entirely french, save a couple of canadians, a couple of poms, a spaniard, a columbian, an argentian and me.)
Avenue de parc again (they had beach volleyball courts here a couple of weeks ago... whimper)

Ps. These photos were taken about 8:30 in the morning. What I'd give for a day of 35 degrees C and a Sydney beach. You have to say that you wouldn't blame Canada for not really being all that passionate about preventing global warming. I mean... really!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Paris je t'aime - Bastille

Some nice observations about relationships from the movie Paris, Je t'aime:

The Irony of Subjugation

"Ce qui lui portait également sur les nerfs avec sa femme, c'était qu'elle ne commandait jamais d'hors d'oeuvre ni de dessert mais qu'elle mangait toujours le sien presque en entier. Et le pire de tout c'était qu'il finissait toujours par commander ce qu'elle aimait."
"What really got on his nerves about his wife was the fact that she never wanted to order an entrée or a dessert, but would always eat all of his instead. And the worst of all was that now he only ordered things that she liked."

Self deception vs Life is What you Make of It

"À force de se comporter comme un homme amoureux, il devient de nouveau, un homme amoureux."
"By behaving like a man in love, he became once more, a man in love."

Monday, November 12, 2007

McGill Law students protest for the reinstatement of the Rule of Law in Pakistan

Some of the students in the masters decided to demonstrate our solidarity with the lawyers suffering abuses of power in Pakistan, as well as with the situation in general, which has seen the country's constitution suspended and a period of (ill-defined) state of emergency implemented.

The protest was an organic experience. It grew out of a conversation over lunch between my colleagues on a Tuesday, occured in its first manifestation on the Tuesday and then again in a more organised manner (student associations mobilsed, professors and press informed, police authorisation etc) on the Friday, and subsequently appeared on the Canadian news on the Friday night. It has also been mentioned to New York Times.

I nice reminder to all of us never to underestimate the power of doing "something".

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dan in "real" life

Last Friday I went and saw “Dan in Real Life”, a romantic comedy about people, family and about retaining the ability to be surprised by life. Basically, whilst on holiday with his whole family, Dan, a man struggling with the task of raising his three daughters after the death of his wife, meets a woman in a bookshop and there is an instant connection. The problem is that the woman is going out with Dan's brother and thus Dan is forced to spend the family holiday hiding his attraction from his brother, and from his family. Sounds pretty simplistic right? To save me explaining the plot further, go and see the trailer, here. Although not really conclusive, you'll get an idea of the style of the film. The reviews of the film range widely from "As resolutely plastic and formulaic as most half-hour network comedy pilots" and "The movie is called Dan in Real Life, but it’s a stretch worthy of Reed Richards to believe that anything in this tepid plate of idiocy would actually happen in real life" all the way to "If what you want is a star-driven sophisticated romantic comedy that is successfully aimed at actual adults, the wait can seem like forever. Until now."
Granted, the film is fairly basic. But I think it is saved by some really sensitive performances and some beautifully sincere and genuine human moments. While the plot may be at times unbelievable, the human reactions are not.

Early in the film, the title character (Steve Carell), at a bookstore, meets the woman he will fall in love with (Juliette Binoche). Mistaking him for an employee, she tries to describe the kind of book she’s looking for. “I want something funny,” she says. “But not laugh-out-loud funny. And definitely not making-fun-of-people funny. I want something human funny.” Unable to really explain what she wants, she capitulates: I want to feel something... I want to be engaged. It does not take long to recognize this as a declaration of the film’s own intentions.
The truth is, this film is simplistic, but if it were not, would it be as popular? People have their own lives to be depressed by. They don't need to go and see someone else who's life is a mess. And after all, the great things about films is they enable us to be unrealistic. It's liberating. It's gratifying.

But why do we gravitate towards entertainment that presents a simplified version of our lives? Why do we enjoy that feeling of, "yes, that's what I feel but I haven't been able to articulate it up till now!" so much.
Why, when there is amazingly genuine intense and emotionally observant music, do we all smile when Bernard Fanning says "I just want to wish you well" in a song with three chords or the Beatles say, "I just want to hold your hand"? Why, when there is a film like Adaptation, does Love Actually take out the box office? Is it that our own lives give us so much grey, that all we want to do is grab onto the black and white and hope to god no one asks us to return it at the door? It is this that films like Dan in Real Life give us. They tender to our intrinsic desire to want to bathe in nostalgia. They allow us to indulge in all those things we wished could be true for own lives but that we seem not able to grasp hold of.

Just like the girl in the book shop, I think some of us are all yearning to be engaged, yearning for someone to make us feel... something. Whatever that something is...

As far as I'm concerned I know there are times when I want to turn off the grey, when I want to forget about the "what am I going to do?"s, the "how will I ever be happy?"s. I know there are times when I just want to turn up the music, forget that the words are meaningless, and jump up and down, and smile.

It doesn't help me make any sense of anything. But it feels good.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

The way we will be

Ted Talks is a conference that takes place once a year were some of the world's most inspired thinkers and doers give presentations on culture, history, law, medicine and innovation (just to name a few) by a wide variety of the world's thinkers and doers. If you have some spare time, instead to looking on facebook to see if Barry, the bloke you met once when you were drunk at the pub, has sent you a magic zombie ring, go and check out some of the speeches. They are very thought-provoking.

I've chosen two presentations just to give you a taste of what Ted Talks is about. The first is about the effect of mobile technology on our way of life. The second is on how law is stifling creativity in our society. Highly recommended.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Hall of Shame

Was sent this chart of the world's most evil people (I say "people" but they are all men! that says something huh?!)

Would you change it at all? Who do you think they were wrong to include? Who do you think they missed?

Australian politics: Economic management

Latest offering from these two commentators on Australian politics. It has a bit of a biting end to it. Check it out here.

Quick game of footy?

Max, (third from right, bottom row) and I played for the Mcgill MBA rugby side, a group of lads having a bit of fun a couple of weeks ago. It was a great day. Two other Canadian university sides traveled to Montréal for the day and we played a bit of a round robin. Mcgill went down in both our games but the boys were valiant and courageous given they were all pretty new to the game.

In any event, it was good to have a run around. No lasting damage done, apart from Max's relationship with his girlfriend, who he made watch all three games back to back during her brief visit from France. The things we do for love. To be honest James, people have probably done worse things for love than just watching a rugby game. Some people take jobs they hate to pay for bright shiny gifts for their partners. Some people take partners they hate to keep their job. Some people stay with people who hate them because they are too scared to leave. Some people dont... Yeah ok. Enough already. You'll scare away the readers.