Friday, March 28, 2008

Earth Hour - Because We Hunger to be Part of Something Bigger than Ourselves

Cynics love to attack popular campaigns, and that is exactly what is happening with Earth Hour.

"Won't Earth Hour be a failure if the entire city doesn't go dark?" a friend asked last week of the campaign to have residents and businesses in the Greater Toronto Area and around the world turn out their lights at 8 p.m. this Saturday for an hour to show support for action on climate change.

"Do you really think turning off your lights for an hour is going to change anything?" my friend added. "Isn't it just a feel-good thing? And why is the Star involved at all in it? Shouldn't a newspaper be a fair and neutral observer?"

Such skepticism isn't limited to my cynical friends. A columnist for The Globe and Mail this week labelled Earth Hour "a sham," a "racket," "flimflammery."

Any doubt I may have had about the phenomenon that is Earth Hour was erased earlier this month when I walked into an arena in Ajax for my regular Monday night hockey league game. There, in the main entrance, was a huge Earth Hour poster touting an event to be held Saturday night at the Ajax town hall as part of the community's plan to mark the campaign.

That poster drove home the message that, cynics excepted, Earth Hour has touched a chord with Canadians like nothing else in recent years. <Toronto Star>

I don't think anyone imagines that shutting off our lights for an hour is going to change the world. It will save some carbon, but only a relatively tiny amount. The vast carbon pumping machine of world industry and commerce will go on as usual. But, well, it might be cool.

Many of you reading this will remember the great 2003 blackout. A disaster, on the one hand, but at the same time, it was an experience. That first night, it was extremely hot, and extremely dark. People came out of their homes and into the streets and yards of the city. We all blinked - the stars! We could see the stars!

Nobody really knew what was going on, but someone with a car would listen to the news and then people would talk, and soon we all knew this wasn't a terrorist attack or the end of the world or anything. I finally met my upstairs neighbours. Everyone was sharing their ice cream, since it would have melted anyways. The pizza place (with a gas oven) was selling slices (cash only) by candlelight. My drunk next-door neighbour (yes, the naked one), proud owner of a pair of flashlights, tried to direct traffic at a nearby intersection but soon gave up. In fact that night (once the horrible commute was over!) people tended to walk instead of drive. If they did drive, they drove slowly. The whole city was transformed. It was actually quite beautiful.

It wasn't really the darkness that caused the togetherness. It was being forced to pause the hyperactive drive. For that night, we took a break from the run around: We need so damn many things/ To keep our dazed lives going/We can be bound, run around/ Fooled animal bite its tail

No television to watch, too dark to read, too hot to stay indoors. All that was left was interacting with fellow humanity. I think in our market-driven super-capitalist individualist society, we crave this, we hunger for it. I think we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. That is why people go to church, and that is why we will participate in Earth Hour. Plus, it's a great excuse to get out in the city for a free concert or one of the other cool events.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The "Good Good War" Is A Bad War

We, the women of Afghanistan, only became a cause in the west following 11 September 2001, when the Taliban suddenly became the official enemy of America. Yes, they persecuted women, but they were not unique, and we have resented the silence in the west over the atrocious nature of the western-backed warlords, who are no different. They rape and kidnap and terrorise, yet they hold seats in [Hamid] Karzai's government. In some ways, we were more secure under the Taliban. You could cross Afghanistan by road and feel secure. Now, you take your life into your hands.

- "Marina" from RAWA, in The "Good Good War" Is A Bad War By John Pilger on Znet

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Random Thoughts on Race, Crime, and Human Resilience

I'm currently working on a project on memory and South African exiles. I was reading Lewis Nkosi's Home and Exile and other Selections when I came across a passage that sat with me. It's in the essay "Apartheid: A Daily Exercise in the Absurd". After describing some of the odd, horrible and certainly absurd things that went on in Apartheid South Africa (like the court wrangling over such questions as at what point does a kiss become passionate enough to convict someone of interracial sex) he wrote:
One could go on, of course, recounting the morbid aspects of apartheid, but it all sounds so hopelessly melodramatic that the total effect is to undermine people's credulity. Sometimes, people wonder after reading about these conditions how the Africans are able to survive at all. One Englishman who attended a first night of a Johannesburg opera was surprised to find well-dressed Africans who looked reasonably happy, mingling with the white audience. From that he concluded that the stories he had read about South Africa were grossly exaggerated. To my own mind that was the highest tribute anybody cold pay to the indestructibility of the human spirit, the ability to absorb hurt and injury and still maintain a semblance of human dignity.

It made me think about people who, say, visit the West Bank and see people smiling and even dancing and think - wow, this isn't so bad. People make the best of things. They don't sit around waiting for someone to come rescue them - they form formal organizations, they practice everyday forms of resistance, and they find ways to live as happy an existence as possible. Sometimes they live for the moment, focusing on the present, concerned little with a future that looks only bleak.
He continues:
Africans have learned that if they are to remain sane at all it is pointless to live within the law. In a country where the government has legislated against sex, drinks, employment, free movement and many other things, which are taken for granted in the Western world, it would take a monumental kind of patience to keep up with the demands of the law.
They know every time a policeman encounters a black man in the street he assumes a crime has been committed; so why bother to live a legal life?

When people are put in conditions that anticipate their criminality it is indeed a monumental effort that is required to avoid that very thing. I'm thinking about crime among minority populations, like in the black ghettos in the US for instance. Now consider in this context Bill O'Reilly's remarks after Hurricane Katrina:
Every American kid should be required to watch videotape of the poor in New Orleans and see how they suffered, because they couldn't get out of town. And then, every teacher should tell the students, 'If you refuse to learn, if you refuse to work hard, if you become addicted, if you live a gangsta-life, you will be poor and powerless just like many of those in New Orleans.'

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Stupifying World of Fox News

So I was reading about the mainstream media's lack of coverage of Winter Soldier. In a way I was surprised, since the winter soldier testimonies were all over my feed reader, from Democracy Now to Common Dreams to The Real News. On the other hand, I guess it isn't so surprising after all.

I thought I'd check Google News, and indeed, the only coverage of Winter Soldier was from the independents and a few local papers. There were only 240 results. (As a comparison, just try searching for "American Idol" - nearly 14,000 results.)

So I thought, just for kicks, that I'd check to see if there was even a speck of coverage on CNN or FOX.

On Fox, the only results from 2008 was a story about Captain America, the ultra-patriotic comic book superhero.

Then I started browsing Why? Must have been momentarily possessed by a self-destructive devil. The subcategories under U.S. are all about fear and distraction. Crime, Sports, Education, Live Audio, War on Terror, Homeland Security, Law, Immigration, Natural Disasters, Sept. 11, U.S. Military. And who, oh who, can protect us from the brown hordes that threaten us (learn all about it under Immigration, September 11, Homeland Security, War on Terror)? And from our neighbours? And the damn planet? Then there's the "HOT TOPICS": FOX News Election Coverage, Celebrity Gossip, FOX Movietone News. Hmm, that's basically sports and entertainment. Even though sports and entertainment have their own top level categories. I guess the American economy is doing A-OK. I could feel my brain turning to mush already.

Next, I went to the videos, where I was treated to some interestig headlines:
Axis of Evil - Is there a connection between Iran and Al Qaeda in Iraq? The Axis of Evil is back? Ma, we better make ourselves a fallout shelter.
Man's World? - Can Hillary Clinton use business leadership skills to reach the White House? Everyone knows Hillary has bigger Kahunas than most men. She should really go home and bake a cake.
Damage Control? - Obama, church blame media for controversy over pastor's provocative comments But of course, that's just damage control, or maybe it's the liberal media's fault. Because everyone knows Fox is fair and balanced.
Losing His Religion? - Obama distances himself from controversial pastor Catch-22: if Obama distances himself from the pastor he's losing his religion, and if he doesn't, then he's racist.
Losing My Religion? - New poll suggests shrinking spiritualism in U.S. Must be Obama's fault.
Racism or Sexism? - Is racism or sexism the bigger problem? Because we must hierarchize, always. By the way, the host's answer was that people just need to stop whining.

Of course, it wasn't all bad. I did learn about panda porn.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Half a Decade in Iraq

A lot can happen in five years. In five years, a toddler will grow old enough for her first day of school. In five years, a schoolboy of eight will become a teenager.

In five years, a proud country and its vibrant population has been reduced to a desolate killing field.

Ellen Weinstein - Camouflage, 2007 Collage

Lies, hundreds of them, that led up to the war in Iraq have been revealed. Five years later, the liars are still busy crafting the Iran propaganda.

Tony Auth - Roots, Unpublished Pen, ink, and wash

In 5 years, the American military has put down roots. At least 75 permanent bases have been established in Iraq.

Koren Shadmi - Tasting Victory, 2007 watercolor, ink and digital

In 5 years, countless Iraqis have been killed and wounded. (We've lost count, you see, since each Iraqi life is not precious enough to concern ourselves with an accurate count. Estimates are as high as a million deaths due to the war.) One in five displaced (around 2.7 million Iraqis). A generation traumatized. A cycle of violence set in motion. The economy and infrastructure of the country destroyed. 3,987 dead American soldiers.

Yes, a lot can happen in five years.

All images from Artists Against the War

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hurrican Katrina and American Diaspora

Hurricane Katrina caused the biggest mass migration in U.S. history. More than than 1 million people were forced to evacuate. Although many people have been able to return home, many are still displaced.
Thousands will not be able to return for years, both because the damage is so catastrophic and because so many were already living in poverty. Many experts are telling churches and other groups to focus on helping people relocate permanently.

So where are they?

This neat map was based on more than 40,000 postings on Internet "safe lists" by Katrina survivors. ePodunk analyzed messages containing both the person's hometown and the location after fleeing the storm. It only shows American cities, though I know some ended up in Canada, and I'm sure elsewhere also. If you click to the full version of the map you can run your cursor over the points on the map to see city names and to click to information about the community.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The tragedy of having more money than you can spend

People, the suffering has gone on too long. No more should our celebrities have to deal with the horror of having far too much money.

They have run out of ways to spend it. Tons of time, energy, initiative, Swarovski crystals and other valuable resources are being used up trying to come up with the latest ridiculous, meaningless bling to ensure that our sad, pitiable celebrities don't have to face overloading their bank accounts. It's heartbreaking, these tumour-like bank accounts, infinitely growing.

They have to live all isolated in gated communities and private islands and have really ugly pets, just to try to decrease their out of control bank accounts. I mean, how can you look into their big vacuous puppy dog eyes without wanting to rescue them from the plight of having far more money than they can ever hope to spend. Won't somebody pleeeez think of the celebrities?

I weep for them

Friday, March 07, 2008

Alberta Oils Sands Land

Did you hear about the hottest new vacation destination? It's Alberta Oil Sands Land, with a travel review by Thomas King:
Personally, I was more interested in the Ralph Klein Earth Mover rides, but the lines were always much too long. In the end, I spent most of my time at the Waste Water Park, watching happy families relaxing and enjoying their tax dollars in action.

But the best part of the entire vacation was watching the sun set each evening on what was left of the Athabasca River. Mr. Harper would strum his guitar and tell us how his heart swelled when he looked out over the landscape and saw the sheer beauty that human ingenuity and corporate genius could create.

Even Mr. Dion got a little teary as we all watched the smoke stacks discharge their billows of pollutants. He said that the soft clouds floating over the high prairies reminded him of the old days when Native people sat around their council fires and told stories about living in harmony with the earth.
All the kids want to go to Alberta Oil Sands Land!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

US Plotted To Overthrow Hamas After Election Victory

In the Guardian UK:
The Bush administration, caught out by the rise of Hamas, embarked on a secret project for the armed overthrow of the Islamist government in Gaza, it emerged yesterday.

Vanity Fair reports in its April edition that President George Bush and the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, signed off on a plan for the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to remove the Hamas authorities in Gaza. The plan called for Washington's allies in the region to funnel arms and salaries to Fatah fighters who would lead a rising against Hamas.

Democracy turned into a farce. Scores of dead women, men and children. A horrible situation (which was slowly showing some progress) made even worse. Yep, good job, Bush.

The Bush administration plan sought to undo the results of elections in the West Bank and Gaza in January 2006 which, to the chagrin of White House and State Department officials, saw Hamas win a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature.

The project was approved by Bush, Rice, and Elliott Abrams, the hawkish deputy national security adviser.

The 2006 election result was seen as an affront to the central premise of the Bush administration's policy in the Middle East - that democratic elections would inexorably lead to pro-western governments.

Whoops. Is our face red!

Not that this is entirely news, we all knew that this is what was going on. Of course, the Bush administration is denying the report "in unusually strong terms".

More in Vanity Fair, which broke the story. And on Democracy Now: Iran Contra 2.0: How the Bush Admin Lied to Congress and Armed Fatah to Provoke Palestinian Civil War Aiming to Overthrow Hamas

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Mormon Guide to Overcoming Masturbation, or How to avoid Self-Love

Are you concerned about the tussle with your muscle? Fortunately, here's a Mormon guide to Overcoming Masturbation (although to be accurate, it should really be called undercoming).
1. Never touch the intimate parts of your body except during normal washing and using the bathroom.

2. Avoid being alone as much as possible. Find good company and stay in this good company, especially when you are feeling particularly weak.

3. If you are associated with other persons having this same problem, YOU MUST BREAK OFF THEIR FRIENDSHIP. Never associate with other people having the same weakness. Don't suppose that two of you will quit together, you never will. You must get away from people of that kind. Just to be in their presence will keep your problem foremost in your mind. The problem must be taken OUT OF YOUR MIND for that is where it really exists. Your mind must be on other and more wholesome things.

4. After you bathe, don't admire yourself in the mirror. Stay in the shower just long enough to clean yourself. Then dry off and GET OUT OF THE BATHROOM into a room where you will have some member of your family present.

5. When in bed (especially if that is where you masturbate), wear pajamas or other clothes so that you cannot easily touch yourself (and so that it would be difficult to remove those clothes. The time it takes to remove your clothing gives additional time to controll your thinking and overcome the temptation).

6. If the temptation seems overpowering while you are in bed, GET OUT OF BED! Go into the kitchen and make a snack, even if it is in the middle of the night, and even if you are not hungry. The purpose behind this suggestion is that you GET YOUR MIND ON SOMETHING ELSE. You are the subject of your thoughts, so to speak.

7. Never look at pornography on the internet or elsewhere. Never read about your problem (even on sites claiming to be "educational"). Keep it out of mind. Remember -- "First a thought, then an act." The thought pattern must be changed. You must not allow this problem to remain in your mind. When you accomplish that, you soon will be free of the act.

8. Put wholesome thoughts into your mind at all times. Read good books, scriptures, talks of church leaders. Make a daily habit of reading at least one chapter of Scripture, preferably from one of the four Gospels in the New Testament, or the Book of Mormon. The four Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John -- above anything else in the Bible can be helpful because of their uplifting qualities.

9. Pray. But when you pray, don't pray about this problem, for that will tend to keep it in your mind more than ever. Pray for faith, pray for understanding of the Scriptures, pray for members of your family who need help. Pray for your friends, BUT KEEP THE PROBLEM OUT OF YOUR MIND BY NOT MENTIONING IT EVEN IN YOUR PRAYERS. KEEP IT OUT of your mind! The attitude of a person toward his problem has an affect on how easy it is to overcome. It is essential that a firm commitment be made to control the habit. As a person understands his reasons for the behavior, and is sensitive to the conditions or situations that may trigger a desire for the act, he develops the power to control it.

If getting rid of all your horny friends, investing in the most impenetrable pajamas known to man, eating til you weigh a thousand pounds, and fully repressing any and all normal desires haven't stopped you from spanking your monkey, don't despair. You can avoid walking Willie, the one eyed wonder worm, by, um, thinking of worms:
In the field of psychotherapy there is a very effective technique called aversion therapy. When we associate or think of something very distasteful with something which has been pleasurable, but undesirable, the distasteful thought and feeling will begin to cancel out that which was pleasurable. If you associate something very distasteful with your loss of self-control it will help you to stop the act. For example, if you are tempted to masturbate, think of having to bathe in a tub of worms, and eat several of them as you do the act. It sounds goofy, but it actually works!

Once it starts producing the "lifegiving substance", you better keep your hands off your "little factory":
Sometimes a young man does not understand. Perhaps he is encouraged by unwise or unworthy companions to tamper with that factory. He might fondle himself and open that release valve. This you shouldn't do, for if you do that, the little factory will speed up. You will then be tempted again and again to release it. You can quickly be subjected to a habit, one that is not worthy, one that will leave you feeling depressed and feeling guilty. Resist that temptation. Do not be guilty of tampering or playing with this sacred power of creation. Keep it in reserve for the time when it can be righteously employed.

Chicken choking is a gateway. Did you know that jerking your johnson can quickly cause you to catch teh gay?
This habit-forming activity quickly leads to other activities such as viewing pornography and participating in homosexual activities.

Fortunately there are many other ways to protect your dolphin from being flogged. And kids, don't forget to say no to pornaaaaaawgraphy.
Via The Friendly Atheist

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Toronto: Homeless Man Frozen to Death

Shelter is not an option. It is a matter of life and death, especially on long Canadian winter nights.

Wednesday night an Aboriginal man who was homeless was found frozen to death in a stairwell around Yonge and Charles St. Another man was found in Chinatown with serious injury from exposure.

Just six days ago the City heard 12 deputations from agencies and community members about the current crisis. After the loss of over 300 shelter spaces and basic needs such as food, we have been left in a dangerous situation. Demands were made for only the most basic need -shelter. The City's response was to leave people in danger and to risk injury and death. The death of this man and the injury and suffering of other homeless people is on the hands of the City.

On Tuesday will be going to City Hall to face Miller and demand an immediate response to this crisis. This is aserious situation and we ask that you make all efforts to join us. For more info contact OCAP.

Meanwhile, here's a new publication on the shelter crisis in Toronto (PDF). It looks at some of the results of the cuts to the shelter system, including the 5 downtown shelters that the city recently shut down. The $4 million dollar saving comes at a cost of increasing overcrowding at other shelters. People are walking and waiting for hours, only to be turned away. The lucky ones get to sleep on chairs inside. The not so lucky... well, they might freeze to death.
Taking a look at the current shelter crisis in Toronto, this issue includes writing on the $4 million cuts to the shelter system, the new police cameras at Dundas and Sherbourne, the illusion of the City's "Streets to Homes" policy and crumbling public housing.

Read more on homelessness -especially this