ISIS and Putin media hype? Relax – it’s still the End of History

Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis was a both an intellectual bombshell and a splendid piece of personal brand-building. It was also one of the most misunderstood theses ever. Writing in the intoxicating days after the fall of the Soviet bloc, Fukuyama in essence argued that Western liberal, democratic capitalism represented the final, highest form of human governance – in essence, “the end of history,” as neither the discredited communist model nor any other option offered a competitive alternative. Is that narrative still valid in 2014? The answer is yes.

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Homework: how it’s still a potent tool and should be reinforced by social media

The National Post today discusses a growing movement to ban homework, especially in the primary grades.  As someone who taught high school for a number of years, let me say this: homework is effective and necessary, but only when assigned judiciously. Here’s how more clearly focused assignments and the use of electronic communications can make it more useful.

In my view, the biggest problem with homework is a fixation on a certain amount of time students “should” be spending on homework each day. Parents often hear their child “should” be spending, say, 45 minutes on homework every night. But human learning just doesn’t work that way.

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Can there be Redemption for Jaime Lannister?

“That boy had wanted to be Arthur Dayne, but someplace along the way he had become the Smiling Knight instead.”

Jaime Lannister is among the most internally conflicted characters in A Game of Thrones. His personal struggle is three pronged: (1) a sense of feudal pride in the power of his family (2) a desire to follow his own path and (3) an increasingly troubled conscience. That Jamie would be so confused is unsurprising, given the environment in which he was raised. Lord Tywin Lannister, who himself was responding to his joke of a father Lord Tytos, was a living exemplar of a man who had sacrificed his humanity in exchange for gravitas, honour and family glory. And so, as Jamie matured in a world where might and honour made right, he committed misdeeds for his glory that of House Lannister – including the thing he did for love, tossing a little boy out a high castle window.

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Pope Francis’ Legacy? No to Traditional Culture Wars, Yes to Fighting Poverty and Inequality

It’s still too early for a real evaluation of the significance of Francis’ pontificate. But such a consideration may have to come sooner than expected, given the Pope’s shocking comments that he may have only another two or three years before he goes “to the house of the Father.”

What can we say about Francis, in the short time he has been with us? Quite a bit, in fact. There is no doubt that this Pope has managed to capture the Zeitgeist better than his predecessor. Ironically, Francis hasn’t introduced anything fundamentally new into the Church – indeed the writings of the maligned Benedict are very much a cornerstone in Francis’ pontificate.  So what’s changed?

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Breaking Bad – One Year On, More Relevant than Ever

Last summer, the final season of one the most important TV shows in a generation was reaching its conclusion.  Throughout the series, there had been an odd beauty to the fall of the series’ anti-hero, Walter White.  Viewers watched as he progressed from respected local teacher to brutal drug lord. As his piles of cash amassed and his creative energies grew, the story frequently seemed a kind of paean to the ego untrammeled, to the human potential reaching its transcendent zenith of heroic materialism. Yet by the second half of the final season, Walt’s crimes were catching up with him.  His family life was in tatters and his reputation increasingly ruined. And though by the very end his wife and son grew to loathe the man they once loved, Walt seemingly found a way to let his piles of dirty money do good for his family.

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The Great War, Social Change, and 2014

Unless you are living in a cave (and one without wifi), you’ve probably seen the recent spate of articles on the outbreak of the Great War. To me, one of the War’s most relevant lessons for our own digital century is its role in facilitating social change. European societies of the 1920’s and ‘30’s were profoundly different in their social and economic assumptions compared with Edwardian England, the Second Reich, or Tsarist Russia. The pointless suffering of the Great War created a moral, spiritual and political vacuum to be filled. Unfortunately, it was frequently filled with extremism or listless mediocrity. Continue reading

A Game of Thrones: Petyr Baelish vs Eddard Stark and the clash of cunning vs. morality

Warning! Contains some spoilers

“You wear your honor like a suit of armor… You think it keeps you safe, but all it does is weigh you down and make it hard for you to move.” – Petyr Baelish to Eddard Stark

For anyone who’s been reading or watching George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones series, there’s pretty much no denying the grim picture the man paints of human morality. Martin’s world is a veritable adult Lord of the Flies, in which Westeros, free of the restraining order of the Targaryen dynasty, shows the brutality of the human soul on full display. The evil lurking beneath the world of culture and civilization is alluded to in the first book of the series, when Petry Baelish warns Sansa Stark that “’life is not a song, sweetling. Someday you may learn that, to your sorrow.

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