Friday, May 12, 2017

Chess, the Game of Kings and Knaves

My initial teacher and opponent in Scotland when I was learning to play chess was my grandma. Progressively I moved up to tussles over the board with my uncle. My school won the Edinburgh Schools Junior Chess Championships 1969-1970, going undefeated in 13 matches. I played board 4 of 9, winning seven, with one tie and one defeat. Years later in Ottawa I played on a simultaneous against touring pro Pia Cramling, then the top rated woman in the world. Swedish, 20 years old and blonde. I felt prompted that same year (1984) to enter the Canadian Open hosted by Carleton University in Ottawa where I got a real drubbing, finishing approximately 130th of 146 entrants. Being a rookie with no rating at the start I thought I might be the equal of those rated at 1500 or so. Wrong! I ended up at around 1200. When back in Edinburgh the following year it was a delight to play a game at the Edinburgh Chess Club, the very premises where Alekhine, one time world champ from the Soviet Union, once competed. It was fun attending the Candidates Match Quarter Finals in 1989 in Quebec City (mid winter to boot) where the Canadian Kevin Spraggett was narrowly defeated in lightning match overtime. Internationally I have played and won impromptu games in Mexico, France and Cuba. I would like that informal streak to continue, in Chongqing maybe next time? Just saying. Chess, the Game of Kings, where you can be royalty one minute, a knave the next.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pia Cramling Simultaneous


Friday, December 09, 2016

Fascism, Light?



We are approaching the season when “Time’s Person of the Year” or “The 2016 World’s Number One  for ….. alright, Basket Weaving (name your endeavour),” etc. are announced. Selected words of the year reveal a rather ominous trend this year. The Oxford Dictionary has proposed “post-truth” (oh so close to post Trump!!!!). Xenophobia is the choice of a major online literary website and apparently “fascism” is currently outpacing other words as the word most often queried for its definition. I can help there. In recent consecutive years I have traveled to the region of Italy whose major city is Bologna. This area is known for its partisan politics. One of the worst atrocities of the Red Brigade era was perpetrated at the city’s train station in 1980. Other attacks took place here (all blamed on fascism) in 1974 and 1984. Bologna and its university are known for lefty politics and presumably this city was consequently an obvious target for opponents. But it was here too that Mussolini was born (in the nearby town of Predappio in Emilia-Romagna at any rate). In 1915 he founded the right wing Fasci d’azione rivoluzionaria, revolutionary cells party, giving birth to the reality of radical fascism in Europe, well before Hitler was on the scene. In 2016 we have Trump, Brexit, Marine LePen, Hungary, Renzi gone, fascism light? And now we must contend with “Fake News” to boot. Ah, progress, such a comforting evolution!   

Saturday, July 16, 2016

British Exit

To make sense of Brexit would require a consensus from multiple heads of faculties at Oxbridge and even then the result might well miss the mark, just like Raonic. Here is my take. Madeline Ashby in the Orillia Packet and Times claims being right is no longer enough. The Remain campaign thought presenting facts i.e. being right, would ensure the status quo. They obviously ignored the impact of emotional feelings. But the success of the likes of Trump, Sanders, Ferrage, Marie Le Pen suggests that voters make decisions in ways which fly in the face of past voting patterns. Misinformation and downright deceit (perhaps not Sanders) is not rejected for what it is any longer. Gut instincts are coming to the fore in western democracies. Extreme views approach mainstream. Intellectual elites can no longer assume they will get to lead what once were the “natural” governing political parties. Cameron made an error in judgment to make a national referendum out of what was essentially an internal Conservative Party rift. He would have known the pitfalls but was too sure that the result would banish any possibility of pitfalls being realized. Being correct would win the day. However, knowing the pulse of the nation is a mugs game in this day and age. Canadian polling companies have made several notable, embarrassing, miscalculations in recent years attempting to predict elections. Does it ever surprise you how often votes are decided almost exactly down the middle, only a point or two off a tie? Scotland, Quebec, Australia, Spain are just some examples. Brexit itself. Strong clear governing mandates do seem harder to come by. Fractiousness has been substituted. So judging by the reaction from Spain and France (for example) it is highly unlikely the needed unanimity of the EU will allow for sub-national Scotland to remain in Europe despite its Remain vote bias. Ironically Scotland had a similar voting pattern to SE England and some English cities yet the English countryside has clearly opted for a go it alone future. Then there is Northern Ireland. It is hard to imagine the shenanigans that will revolve around a hard border reinstated at the point of contact with the Republic of Ireland, which will also be the European Union outer limit. The fact that Prime Minister May was an advocate for Remain, yet now has made a commitment to negotiating the exit, how strange is that? I suppose she is taking the traditional British attachment to democracy seriously and saying a referendum has to be respected as the will of the people, even if untold numbers might change their will (pun intended) knowing what they now know. Like any good debater PM May presumably can debate both sides of an issue with the same degree of alacrity. All power to her. What is done is done. Get on with it. Hardly rules I live by personally but I do think it is the right message for public consumption at this stage.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Jockey Club Statue

Hong Kong Jockey Club

In the heart of Happy Valley, Causeway Bay, is one of Hong Kong’s going concerns, the main racecourse. Twice throughout the week there is a meet here or alternatively at Sha Tin racecourse on the mainland i.e. in Hong Kong’s New Territories. Betting on the outcome of races appears to be a way of life for a major proportion of the population. Lots of visitors or expats like to take in the races too. That being as it may, what is striking is the number and variety of other institutions and enterprises in the city that are underwritten or sponsored by the Jockey Club. From youth hostels to medical clinics to soccer teams to god knows what else, the Hong Kong Jockey Club seems to have a hand in it. Its like Rotary, Lions, Elks, Chamber of Commerce all rolled into one. Wikipedia has this to say about it, which now I know. “Founded in 1884, The Hong Kong Jockey Club is a horse racing operator and Hong Kong's largest community benefactor, operating as a not-for-profit organisation.” It would appear to have contributed about two thirds of a billion Canadian dollars to the community in 2014 and is HKs largest source of taxes!

Queen Victoria in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Emasculated

Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, is symbolic in many ways of what is happening generally to Britain's former Far East colony. In microcosm, what has happened to the park's statue of Queen Victoria, currently surrounded in an undignified manner by the booths, billboards and myriad of visitors of Hong Kong's Brands and Products Exhibition, is happening to Asia's World City. The statue has been emasculated by this commercial fair and will be again soon when a couple of weeks from now 74,000 participants of the annual marathon invade the park. Likewise at the larger scale Hong Kong is being drowned by mainland China. Shenzhen up the road but over the frontier already is a larger city and has taken over the manufacturing Hong Kong was once famous for. Well over half a million visitors came to Hong Kong from the mainland in just four days over Xmas. Streets and stores were clogged, line-ups unending. Business may be good but underlying this is an ongoing enmity between the Chinese here and those of the PRC.
The newspapers are full of points of contention between what one might loosely term the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing factions. They push their respective agendas. The Occupy Central movement of 2014 is fresh in everyone's mind here and the Legislative Council i.e. parliament, clearly is divided. The appointment of a vice-chancellor at HK University, seen to hold outspoken political views, is one case in point, as was the removal of the symbol of the crown on local mailboxes, a vestige of colonial days. Hong Kong remains a window on the world for the People's Republic but increasingly China does not need this outlet for its financial affairs. It can connect globally in many ways now by by-passing Hong Kong. Nominally Hong Kong is a Special Autonomous Region (SAR) within China but the protections that should go with this status are becoming less and less sacrosanct. Emasculation?

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Iron Horse to Europe

China is modifying its means of getting goods to market, especially Europe. It has a history which is much longer than many recognize of reaching out. Admiral Zheng He for example is legendary for having led an expedition of 28, 000 people by ship to explore as far away as Africa and the Red Sea. That was in the 15th century. His armada was essentially one to develop trade and forge political ties. A Yale professor believes China may have reached Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and CBC The National featured his findings a few years ago. My comment that this contact was surprising being on the Atlantic coast not the Pacific was featured on the nightly news viewer feedback segment "Your Turn." Of course China was the source of the Silk Road. But now in 2015 an article in China Daily (Dec 11th) states that the central city of Zhengzhou, Henan, has been linked by rail to Hamburg. Over 150 trains a year are using this route, one of over 10,000 kms. 20 official routes now exist in China for a total of over a thousand trains a year to Europe! Talk about a land bridge. Rail is quicker and in many instances cheaper than shipping by sea. Air has over capacity. So the Iron Horse refuses to become an anachronism.