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Archive for December, 2012

Complicated Year-End Thoughts

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As I sit here on New Year’s Eve, watching the sun peek through the cedars here in North Delta, I am inspired to consider what has happened this last year and what lies ahead. If I was still in the US, I’d be worried on this day about the fiscal cliff (my only suggestion to break the impasses is to get the NHL owners to talk to the Democrats and the players to tangle with the Republicans). Here in BC we have our own important election to look forward to.

As 2012 fades away, I have mixed feelings. For us, it was a very eventful year: the loss of our dog Pete, and his brother Max was diagnosed with cancer in October; several other family health issues; a son who continues to do well at Brock University and is still playing music; one daughter who worked on the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies in London; one who got a job at UBC, and the health care provider who continues her amazing work with disabled children here and in Ladakh.

Of course there was the big move from one great and unique institution (SUNY Empire State College) to another here at KPU, with all the excitement and stress of changing jobs, saying goodbye to some dear friends and making new ones; moving all our belongings and setting up a new home; driving across the US and re-entering Canada, and learning all about the institution and the regions I now serve.

Here is Max in the car in NY on August 18th, ready for the long trek with me, and the look on his face says it all:

Max

And here we are taking a break by the Yakima River in Ellensburg, WA the day before we arrived in BC:

Alan Davis & Max

I have had a wonderful welcome to KPU, which has such a huge role to play in helping people prepare for a new economy, and ensuring a continued focus on social issues and community development. It is truly exciting work to lead such an institution, surrounded by the most amazing and dedicated educators.

My diary is already filling up for the period January to June 2013, reflecting a complex agenda of the usual administration and governance plus strategic planning, budgeting, local and national events, graduations in May, and a few days for a holiday.

So, given that, what is the point of having resolutions? Just surviving and getting through it all successfully would be enough. However, how I manage to achieve all my goals and meet my commitments is worth improving, and thus, like many others, I resolve to simplify my complicated life and to improve my physical, intellectual and emotional health. It is hard to be a good dad and husband and polytechnic university president if I am not myself focused, strong and healthy. So, I resolve to:

  • Eat better; think about what I am ingesting, and chew my food more slowly.
  • Exercise more. I do pretty well already, but as I get older (hard to believe I know, but I am in my 60s), the effects seem to weaken; it is time to step it up.
  • Lose some weight; either that or grow taller.
  • Watch less TV, and spend more time reading, every day.
  • Watch less TV, and spend more time with my family and friends.
  • Try harder with my blogs and my tweeting @presadavis.

For those of you who track my previous year-end blogs and recognize these perennial resolutions…..sshh.

Happy New Year!

The Hobbit

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I hardly ever go to the movies anymore, but it has been a tradition of sorts for me to see all the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies on the big screen with my kids, or some subset of them. Alex was the perfect age for the Harry Potter series: it started with me reading the books to him (with all the voices), but as soon as he could manage for himself he took over, plus he read Lord of the Rings at a surprisingly young age. We built a huge wood and paper Helms Deep in the garage, complete with fairy lights and dozens of very carefully painted (by Alex) Warcraft figurines. We even named our hamster Arwen.

When the first HP movie came out, Alexis was visiting in Edmonton, and the three of us went to see the movie the day after it was released. I chose the noon screening to avoid the huge crowds, and so we were almost alone in the cinema. We were thrilled with the movie, with the lovely mix of stock British actors and CGI bringing the book to life so nicely. The next day it was snowing, and, not having much else to do, we went right back to see the movie again.

Since then we have followed that franchise to its bittersweet and dark ending, and of course the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films started to overlap. We enjoyed those together just as much, with Alex able to explain every tiny deviation from the books. When the DVDs came out with all the missing snippets included, he would have friends over to watch the whole trilogy in sequence: close to 11 hours with meals and bathroom breaks.

Last Friday, we all went to see the first of The Hobbit movies. Alex had already seen it in Ontario, but was very keen to see it again, and I could see why. It is so densely packed; it is hard to take in all at once. I enjoyed it very much, but not without the usual mixed feelings.

I am not too bothered by the fact that this film expands the slim book that Tolkien wrote before LOTR. Yes, it is padded in order to extend the franchise, and I did get the feeling of some sort of formula being applied: type-cast the usual suspect actors and actresses (Martin Freeman was born to be the young Bilbo), add fantastic costume, makeup and scene design, take lots of aerial shots of the lovely New Zealand landscapes and let the CGI geeks run amok. How on earth they blend all this to create a seamless and exciting movie is amazing, but to drag out the story so much has it limits. And now it seems that it will become a trilogy of films based on the Hobbit, drawing on Tolkien’s copious appendices on Middle Earth. We will be at this until 2014.

I got lost trying to figure out the trolls, the goblins and the orcs: it was one impossible fight and chase scene after another. The action scenes were so fast and closely shot that one was mesmerised: who was chopping whose head off, and how come, despite all the attempts of thousands of ghouls to destroy our heroes, none were lost?

In the end, it was a bit too cartoonish: like Road Runner, or Itchy and Scratchy, with any reality suspended, when I am not sure that was the point. Yes, there is magic, although, as in Harry Potter, any magic deployed is judiciously applied in order to fix any dead ends in the plot. That is why fantasy stories are such a cop out.

Then of course there is the cinema experience itself. By 7 pm on a holiday weekend, the floors are littered with popcorn etc., the bathrooms are in serious need of attention, and, with the advent of home theatre, no one knows how to behave: there is constant chattering throughout. Thankfully, the 7.1 surround sound was so loud, it drowned the offenders, and my cinema-going experience was not entirely ruined. For once, I did not vow to boycott movie theatres for good.

It amazes me that people still want to spend the money (it must be $25 a head with a junk food combo)  and endure the travel, parking, queuing, and the other people in order to be pummeled with advertising before the movie, and with so many movies being hardly worth the effort in the first place.  I am told that I could also have seen The Hobbit in 3D (I would surely have vomited), and/or in a version that was shot at double the speed, with, surely, imperceptible benefits.

Despite all this, I can’t wait for the next episode.

Violence

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It has been a tough few weeks, and I wanted to share some thoughts about aggression and violence, and how easily and indirectly violence is fomented, and how banal and vulgar we have become in this digital and multichannel universe in how we deal with violence, broadly defined.

On December 6th we recognised the 23rd anniversary of L’Ecole Polytechnique’s tragedy, and we reminded ourselves of the continuing violence towards women and children. The short ceremony I attended at KPU Surrey was poignant and dignified, with local MLAs and community groups represented, and words from our faculty, the Surrey Women’s Centre, and especially our students.

It was the day after the Kwantlen Student Association Council had agreed to admit the Protectores Vitae group as a fully-fledged club of the KSA, along with the money, privileges and accountability that goes along with that. While disagreeing with the beliefs and aims of the pro-life group, the KSA recognized its right to convene and to organise as a group.

I am very pleased with the dignity and calmness with which the KSA handled itself in the face of what I can only describe as hateful invective, insinuations and threats that they received (as did I, though KPU and the KSA are of course quite distinct entities).

The role of the University is to provide a safe and open space for the discussion, consideration and exploration of all aspects of our world through the arts, sciences and business, broadly defined. I think we do this pretty well at KPU, with the intention of preparing our graduates for good citizenship and for rewarding careers. And we do this peacefully and respectfully while recognizing much diversity of opinion. I’ve witnessed behaviour of some of my peers who should know better.

Humour is often a good coping strategy for difficult issues, but not always. I have been reading Robert Hass’s book “What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination and the Natural World”, which (at only 20% through according to my Kindle) is the best book I have read this year. In an essay on “Violence, Literature and Immanuel Kant”, he takes you on a survey of history and literature that is strangely comforting (in the sense that these issues have been with us forever), but also disturbing when you consider how easily we could achieve peace.

Hass’s discussion of the role of literature and art and music in describing and understanding conflict and war may help me through the recent news of the murder of 27 people, including 20 young children, in Connecticut.

Hass’s essay will certainly help me endure the awful, knee-jerk and totally inappropriate TV coverage. There is no decency left in the drive for ratings: jumping around between snippets of information. There is an instant need to know about the murderer and his motives, and all the gory details, no doubt with all sorts of misinformation, and with the usual breaks for inappropriate advertising.

Surely, after making sure the incident is over and the survivors are secure, you need to just back off and let everyone grieve. We need some  dignity exhibited by the media: give us the confirmed facts, then go to some images and music and poetry that will allow us to share the grief, to hug our own children tightly, and to think deeply what, in the society we are all responsible for, could cause yet another horror. How can we better protect each other, including those who need help with their inability to cope and thus become a danger to us and to themselves?

I once had the idea that every small act of unkindness, or aggression, or lack of courtesy and respect, be it on the road, in athletics, in our work place and particularly within our own families all added to a huge reservoir of violence and intolerance which occasionally boils over, and astonishes us with its intensity and violence. In other words, we are all connected and we are all responsible for creating a peaceful world in every act, both big and small.  Like our collective efforts to solve matters of sustainability and climate change, I am as guilty as anyone, but awareness of that, and a willingness to discuss it openly and respectfully, is the first of many steps, right?

Lastly, and this will have to be blogged further another time, the surreal mash-up recently of

  • minute by minute updates on the royal (read “celebrity”) pregnancy and all other aspects of their lives,
  • the prank of the Australian radio hosts, and
  • the dreadful news that the “duped” nurse had died, likely from suicide.

And if you don’t think we are all guilty because of our insane celebrity worship (which the royals share some responsibility for, surely?) which justifies the vulgarity of the media….think again.