Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Enviro-Mental Breakdown

Two Parter

ONE - You might find it surprising that I still need a bit of convincing that humans are the worst species to have ever inhabited the earth.
If were to be hoenst with myself, then sure, there's no way around that fact. Even once you discount all our atrocities there's still all those poor rare strains of fungus that we've annihilated in building another McDonald's in some rural Mongolian town.
I'll spare you the fact that, hey, since we're the only species with a system of morals, we must necessarily be the worst species to have ever existed.
But I don't really buy it, I think it's a pointless argument. Which is why I'm ASTOUNDED to learn that, for all the lip-service people pay to ideas like "How nice would the Earth be if humans were to just die out" and "we deserve to be extinct for all the awful shit we've done," there is actually a group that is dedicated to this very idea.
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement exists. It seems like a headline from The Onion for god's sake. But they're committed to exactly what it sounds like: halting the birth rate to an absolute zero in order to freeze the damage being done to earth (environmentally) to that millions of other species can be preserved.
It's a radical strain, and I don't imagine many people would be giving much thought to joining. Still, you have to admire VHEMT's candor in saying something so utterly stupid; it traipses into the realm of boldness.
Great minds have always had the most radical ideas. Too bad these guys, despite they're sheer genius, are ensuring that there will be no one around to carry on they're legacy. Let's hope that they'll extinct themselves sooner rather than later, so the rest of us can get on with finding real solutions.
TWO - I thought this was the funniest thing I'd read all day, despite that it stems from such awful news.
Russia tested, on Sept. 11 2007, a new kind of bomb that is reportedly the most powerful non-nuclear weapon on earth, 5x more powerful than an American-made bomb of the same description.
Here's an exerpt from that article:

MOSCOW (AP) - The Russian military has successfully tested what it described as the world's most powerful non-nuclear air-delivered bomb, Russia's state television reported Tuesday.

It was the latest show of Russia's military muscle amid chilly relations with the United States.
Channel One television said the new weapon, nicknamed the "dad of all bombs" is four times more powerful than the U.S. "mother of all bombs."

"The tests have shown that the new air-delivered ordnance is comparable to a nuclear weapon in its efficiency and capability," said Col.-Gen. Alexander Rukshin, a deputy chief of the Russian military's General Staff, said in televised remarks.
Unlike a nuclear weapon, the bomb doesn't hurt the environment, he added.
Whew. I mean, if you're going to turn hundreds of thousands of people into fertilizer, it's probably a good thing that you could grow a few organic carrots out of it, right?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hegemony Betting

I dislike the word empire.

It's a byword these days for everything American. America is the modern Rome - stretching it's fingers far into lands with which it has little contact other than a military presence. American culture and media unerringly plant their flags across the globe to create small satellites of influence, like the Soviet Union of the 70s and 80s (a fact that today's educated elite never tire of smugly reminding us, as though it were a painfully accurate comparison).

My understanding of the classic idea of empire is a nation-state (or region, whatever your preference is) that can claim lands and civilizations foreign to its centre as its own. Britain was an empire at one point because countries such as India and Sri Lanka were made to pledge allegiance to the Queen. They shared a head of state, and the smaller, servile countries took their political cues from a distant ruler.

The US is no such hegemon. I'm not entirely educated on this point, but I cannot name another country that is forcibly made to pledge formal allegience to George W. Bush. No other country flies an American flag as official state policy. This may be a small point to argue against - nobody can deny that America has more cultural and political influence than any other civilization previous.

But the word empire has a consistently (albeit fairly recent) negative connotation, just as, I suppose, "American" currently does. And in the state of mind, it's popular to compare America to that last failed empire: Rome. Rome's spectacular slow-motion car-wreck of a decline is a delightful model for American nay-sayers to call upon, only with the added joy is pointing out that Rome was at least cultured.

What is driving the American juggernaut into the ground? Pick one, anything. Literally any aspect of what might be loosely considered the American Way of Life will be another nail in it's own coffin. Environmental policy (or lack of), her politics, her education system, her slumping economy, the housing market, the declining standards of television, McDonald's, Croc shoes, Paris Hilton, the extinction of the rare blue shrub of Nevada, Sen. Craig's mischievious right toe i the men's bathroom. Nothing is too small a point to stick in the supposedly rapidly-deflating balloon of US dominance.

Yet for all the destruction theories, no convincing alternatives have risen to fill the vacuum. We like to think that the European Union is the last bastion of 'white' culture and will always be a guiding light, but how well does that hold up? Europe enjoys an aging population that is being reduced by half every generation: there may not be a Europe to save us in 50 years, much less a "white" majority in major capitals like London.

**Please understand that my argument here is not a "white supremacist" one in any sense, but only to point out that the comfortable way of life most of us enjoy here is the result of a history of what is generally considered "white", or "Anglo-Saxon" if you prefer, forms of governance: democratic ideals, free market, etc. For an example, note that countries like America and Canada, whose lifestyles we primarily identify with, are of British heritage. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule. **

China or Russia? Forget it: as the article by Joel Achenbauch clearly indicates, both of these countries boast power based on number or history, but both are leading the pack in economic, environmental, and societal decline.

The Middle East? Perhaps, based on their booming demography. But the median age in much of the middle east is still in it's infancy, and the life expectancy still not much better than many African nations.

America makes missteps. The lunges it takes from time to time in technology or foreign policy often lead to disasterous consequences down the road. Such is the burden of being the biggest player on the field - your own unweildiness undercuts the sheer power and influence of your maneuvers. But perhaps being the biggest also allows you the best view as well.

I don't believe that US power is in decline, first off because the idea of an American empire is ridiculous. US military might may cast a shadow over the political schemes of other nations, but don't consider for a second that it doesn't work the other way around. The US has adaptibility going for it, coupled with a tried and true form of government that, while still a leakey boat at times, has sailed relatively smoothly since 1776. Keep in mind that most democratic states in contiental Europe are much younger than even Canada's own.

Will America fall because of its military campaigns, leaving itself and the world nothing but an ash-ridden parking lot of nuclear fallout? Unlikely. For all its detractors, US military campaigns still largely serve to protect its own security and the security of it's people. As distasteful as war is, and the current conflict at hand, I still believe that promoting democracy in the Middle East and around the world works to the benefit of all. To say that the loss to this point of American lives is not worth the final result is insulting, and only exacerbates the boldness of those who see democracy as a weak horse form of government (this is about the time most would accuse me of being a brainwashed neocon youth).

My point is not to dwell on Iraq: the issue is much bigger than that. To end this entry, I'll simply direct you to the article from the Washington Post that gave rise to this belated blog.

Post-script: I find it funny, and kind of sad, that those who argue the benefits of globalization and the breaking down of national boundaries take it as read that America, the best example of globalization at work, is inherently globalization's cautionary tale. "Let's accept the cultures and practices of other peoples, but not share our own, for that would empirial and dictatorial." What one is essentially saying is that would should tolerate other cultures much like we would tolerate small children, while not allowing our more dominant culture to exert any influence, for it's sheer effectiveness gives it an unfair advantage.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Missing Something

Rolling around Vice Magazine's website today, I watched an interesting episode of their online video-blog (I guess) that they call Vice TV, or something like that.

It's usually an excellent blog, as well as an excellent website. I find that their politics often don't mesh very well with my own, but on the whole, the people at Vice are able to steer away from any direct political criticism and are clear to point out that the opinions are those of the writers and not so much of the entire magazine. That, and their wicked sense of humour and political incorrectness, saves them from my otherwise harsh criteria and oh-so-openminded Conservative demeanour.

I kid. But back to my point, this certain video-blog entry features an interview with a no-name model and a semi-name photographer who goes by Richard Kern. (Before you click, I'll warn you that the video does contain a fair amount of frontal nudity by the model, although I don't imagine anybody is going to find bare breasts shocking at this day and age.)

The model goes on to briefly describe her life before modelling, coming from Sarasota Springs, and subsequently being freed of the "repressiveness" of said hometown. I wonder: how is it possible for so many young people of today to feel to constantly repressed? This young woman details her trips to India to study meditation with a Swami, and the crowds she fell in and out of, most of which involved some kind of seedy scene or illegal drug use.

And then she mimicks her mother's hysterical shrieking, who wonders why her daughter isn't on the cover of Vogue rather than modelling nude for a strange, somewhat ingratiating middle-aged photographer. Hell, is it that bad that your mother would want something for you a little better than what you're currently doing? I'm not saying a parent shouldn't be respectful, to a degree, of her child's decisions, but to say that you experienced repression growing up in a mid-west US town and that you had to "escape" your parents by going to India...

...grow up. I'm sure India is a wonderful place, but the youth of today seem to think that any place other than here is so much better. You are not repressed, ok? You are dissatisfied, but show me a teen who hasn't experienced dissatisfaction at some point. The only difference is, some people are intelligent enough to stick it out instead of becoming a permanent Lost Boy. Your own sense of personal responsibility comes from enduring a tough situation and making it better, not changing the scene if it ain't your bag, man.

Don't abuse a foreign culture as a solution to your teenaged angst; don't adopt a new religion or philosophy at the drop of a hat simply because your parents have never heard of it. It's insulting not only to that group of people who practice is legitimately, but also to your own identity, which deserves to be hard-won and not changed like a pair of underwear.

Post-Script: To see all of ViceMag online, click here. I highly recommend the Dos and Don'ts page, which can be found at the top of the homepage.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Not only do these colours run, sirens scream to clear their way

The city of Toronto has recently decided to retract its motion to have all the magnetic "Support the Troops" decals removed from its emergency vehicles. The decals, which had been on the firetrucks and ambulances since the beginning of the Canadian presence in Afghanistan, had recently come under scrutiny due to the supposedly "controversial nature" of the war campaign.

So, in an effort to remain as broadly supportive of every strata of Torontonian culture like a proper "moderate" Canuck, the mayor and his cohorts decided that all the vehicles would be stripped of the decals, lest they offend someone.

Never mind that the emergency service workers of TO might feel a kinship with the few other brave people willing to risk their lives, never mind that it's simply a show of support and not necessarily support for the war. Knee-jerk reactions in the name of moderation and tolerance have never been so poorly disguised.

Thankfully, the motion was overrulled due to immense public outrage. It seems the shrinking, shrieking minority wasn't able to kick and scream its way out of this ugly condescension. So score a (minor) point for the good guys.

Then the city issues this disgusting press release, deeming it appropriate to mention that "all of Canada's men and women serving in the military have the unwavering support of all Torontonians."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


This one is a bit harder to pin down, because it's partly a personal story as well as news-relevant.

On my way to work this morning, I was listening to JACK 92.5. I'm not sure if it's familiar to any of my St. Catharines friends, but I imagine it might be since it's a Toronto station, and probably reaches our smoggy shores in Southern Ontario.

The voice on the radio (because I'm not aware of the personality, or even if it was a Public Service Announcement) was speaking about the recent news of the video ABC had attained showing an Al-Quaeda suicide-bomber graduation. It's literally what it sounds like: graduation had come for hundreds of now certified suicide bombers in the blind attempt at worldwide Islamic rule, or jihad (keeping in mind that, as we're constantly reminded, that jihad literally means "internal struggle." How delicate.)

Some of these "graduates" are as young as 12 years old, which I'm sure comes as no surprise to many who are even halfway aware of the news flowing out of the Middle East every day.

That's awful enough as it is. But the radio announcer decided to up the ante by coupling that story with the seemingly unconnected story of the Hwy. 400 accident that occured Monday. The crash was a result of three young men drag racing on the highway. A transport truck swerved to avoid them and rolled, killing the truck driver. The three men have been charged.

Normally I'm not a terribly reactive person - I've come to expect the hypocrisy and utter stupidity of most of the Canadian news outlets that insist on turning a blind eye to all that could be considered even remotely "unbecoming" of the Canadian identity. But this certain radio DJ attempted to draw a connection by saying that, if a parent send their child into the streets with a nice car and a licence, then they are essentially doing no more than unleashing something akin to an adolescent suicide bomber into the GTA.

Hear that? Install a few speed humps along residential streets and put more cops on the highway, because we are currently at risk of teenage death-squads, not clad in Hamas colours and high-velocity explosives, but something far more sinister: Honda Civics.

The idea that this man could possibly compare an ideology (that has a vast global network that ceases to slow its growth) of death-cultism, one that is committed to the destruction of democratic law and civil society, is not only absurd, it's insulting in a manner that leaves me almost speechless.

And then, we get news saying that Stephen Harper and the American CIA are attempting to supress the graduation story, regardless of its harrowing portentions. Whether they are or not is irrelevent; the media in Canada and the US has been supressing this kind of information for years in the attempt to appear "multicultural" and "culturally tolerant." It's the jihadist's anger with the American occupation, it's the terrible conditions they live under, it's only a small percentage that believes in a violent jihad, etc etc. Well, some stories can't be excused away, and we're expected to be angry with the government for not acting sooner as we sit back and refuse to act at all. No, we'd rather think globally and act locally about the environment.

And they can't see their own hypocrisy.

We've done this to ourselves. Those adolescent time-bombs have been dispatched to NATO allied countries. That includes Canada. When it comes to being fearful of an explosion in Nathan Philip's Square, or the off-chance of a couple of irresponsible kids with a custom muffler, I know which one I'll be keeping my head up for.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sweet Dreams

It almost seems like a cruel joke that I chose yesterday, for the first time, to post on a weekend and do a bit of personal reflection and disregard the news from around the world. I reflected mostly on my life within school and what will happen when I leave, and sure, reading it now I find an undertone of having had extreme good fortune and perhaps not recognizing it. I don't consider myself, I think, one of those people who simply cannot recognize the good in their life. I know I do and I know that I have been extremely fortunate.

But, perhaps paradoxically, the edges become sharper and the lines more clearly defined as time passes. You've probably all heard the news of the school killings coming out of Virginia today, and I'll try my best not to write on it too extensively. It doesn't do any good to rehash the obvious when I'm sure everyone can agree that it's a horrible situation.

Events like this probably do, and should, make us feel fortunate. Just yesterday I expressed my dismay at the confusion surrounding my future, and here, 33 people have had their futures snatched away from them doing the exact same thing I've been doing for so long now - creating choices through education. I ended yesterday's post with a fairly glib comment, something about pushing all the negative shit away and reflecting that things will roll on more or less as they should. And though it may seem irresponsible to say that now, I still believe it.

I've had more than a few friends express to me today their disgust and horror at what happens in the world - an understandable and admirable observation. It shows that these people are moral and emotional people who do not let life fall lightly upon them without leaving an impression.

But a deeper part of me despairs any lasting feelings some may hold regarding the "futile" nature of everything. I'm naturally an anxious person, and over the past few years I've committed myself to not letting things bother me as much as they used to, and though this is no laughing matter, I still believe that looking forward is the best policy one can have (while, of course, keeping an eye trained over the shoulder). I'd like to encourage those who have been shocked and saddened by today's events to keep that in mind too. I don't think they need my warnings anyway - most people I know are quite good at keeping their chins up.

Just before I wrap up my philosophical waxing, I'll make a small note, something that Kari mentioned in her blog a little while ago about the gruesome and often depressing news that dominates journalism. It's my belief that this is simply the way journalism is, and it does not reflect anything sadistic about the human race, any bloodlust that is somehow inherent. I do not think, by nature, that the news is full of bad tidings simply because that is what is entertaining.

We must keep in the mind that the news is a system that is essentially the never-ending catalogue of our times. It sustains itself by never reaching an end. Good news, stories that make one cheerful, are good news mainly because they have ENDINGS. A little old lady wins the lottery and she can now get that hip replacement; a small child is rescued from a flood and can now go on to lead a happy, full life; a food shipment finally gets to starving refugees somewhere in Cambodia, and they can carry on now.

Bad news, on the other hand, is the killing of the dragon before we can get to the damsel. It's the conflict, and nobody has ever read a bedtime story that began with walking out the front door and ended two pages later with the hero getting his just rewards. Something must happen. It's more than simply satiating the masses their need for death and mayhem.

That being said, I was forced to come across a number of awful stories in the news that have been sidelines by the Virginia case in my attempt to find this for anyone who's interested. It's a bit of good news for you: a story about chocolate farmers in a remote Mayan community that are making a well-deserved dollar for honest work. It's a great article and it may lift the mood a bit.

My thoughts and prayers go out to those in Virginia.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

All Quiet on the Weekend Front

No news today. Go back to bed; everything is ok. It's just Sunday, son.

Actually, I'm sure there is news, I just haven't bothered to check yet. Somehow I've managed to avoid all my primary news aggregators in favour of just drinking a cup of coffee and going over a bit of sleepy political commentary and my friends' blogs.

It's a Sunday, but it doesn't really feel like a Sunday, not yet. Yesterday, the day of the Postmodernist Literature exam, was the worst case of mistaken identity for a weekday I've ever experienced - rather than feel like the beginning of a weekend I thought we were smack-dab in middle of a busy school week.

Of course confusing a weekday with another is only ever a small step away from the moment you realize that time is slipping by pretty quickly. I'm reaching the end of my third year of university, with less than a week to go until I jet back to dear old Aurora and my dear old summer job. This leaves me one full year left at Brock, assuming I can fulfill all the required credits and get into a decent post-grad school once I finish.

And I'm still only 20. I dislike facing the fact of my youth sometimes, especially when so many of my friends are older than I am. The joy of university, and I'm sure I'm not the only person to have found this, is that age is no longer as powerful an identifier as it once was. Of course, there are a number of aspects of university that set it apart from where we've been before. By the time I graduate, I'll be a middle-aged 21. Which, I guess, is only young comparitively speaking. 50 years ago I would have been making plans to get married in a year or two, have myself set up with a job.

None of this is really new. It's a favourite discussion amoungst all my friends because I think it's a universal worry. If not a worry, at least a universal tickling-thought that never quite goes away. We're concerned with having the next step planned, and although our world is much more flexible than it used to be, the nerve to toy with that flexibility, I think, has weakened.

Now I'm starting to get all self-reflective and I don't want that. Bring it back.

A big thank you, by the way, to everyone who came out for the Thai dinner last night. I'm sorry that we missed a few of our other classmates and friends, but it's to be expected at such a busy time of the year. You missed some delicious Gang Dang Chicken though, I'll have you know.

The word on the grapevine is also that there may be a Writer's Guild starting up? I like this idea as much as I fear it. I will say, though, that I would probably not shy away from sharing anything I write with the friends that I've made here, which is a pretty big deal considering how short a time I've really been good friends with everyone. I often get prickly when it comes to accepting even the slightest constructive criticism and I need to stop. I have a few poems that I could share, and I need to finish at least one short story by New Years. My problem is that I have trouble thinking in narrative arcs. I would even considering posting a few of the poems here but I'm not sure it would fit the tone of the blog. Don't even mention the Facebook-posting option.

So that's me today. It's a quiet Sunday, son, and I've been left alone with my thoughts. Only one of my housemates is awake and he pretty much keeps to himself. I can hear him banging around in the hall and listening to his daily dose of hip-hop. I'll read over my African History notes once and then probably start to think about refilling my coffee cup. Maybe I'll even go for a run, if my iPod batteries aren't dead yet. Oh yeah, and it's my sister's 18th birthday. I need to call her, then call HMV to see if her CD has come in yet. My copy of Dubliners that I bought with Kari on our used book-shopping day is staring me in the face, because it just seems so perfect for a Sunday morning (and it would be if I didn't have to study).

Of course the tease of it all is that the summer months are perfect for this kind of mellowing out, but I always get bored so quickly when I'm in Aurora. I love my days off but I can never find anything to do with them.

At least in St. Catharines, there are always notes to go over.