Sunday, 28 March 2010

12 step economic recovery

A year ago, many eminent thinkers were talking about how things needed to fundamentally change if the global economy was to grow its way out of recession. Specifically, the western consumerism that largely drives this economy had the plug pulled on it temporarily and people put their money in the bank instead of on their plastic. The way this problem was going to be resolved to go from a consumer, manufacturing and resource based-economy to one with "clean tech" "green jobs" "green collar workforces" "massive, large scale retrofits" and many other exotic, fresh-sounding, attractive terms that were being bandied about.

Well, needless to say, it never happened, and today we have been dragged right back down to earth, which is choking harder and harder on all the sustained consumer, manufacturing, and resource-based activity. What we have now are well-meaning "green" politicians (this shot's being taken at you, premier of Ontario) cancelling desperately needed public transit funds for a city with terrible traffic so as not to appear soft on the deficit they ran up paying public sector workers massive salaries. And yesterday's Earth Hour demonstration was healthily opposed by an anti-earth hour demonstration. When I was talking to somebody today about how his partner in the States said nobody really participated and it sounded like a "blue state" thing, and how he and myself had both noticed the dearth of recycling in recent visits to that country, I realized that as the perception of the recession and its harsh effects have worn off, so have the general enthusiasm and desire to act on the environment.

That is because there is a not just climate change, but what my girlfriend has termed an "everything denier" movement in full force. The republican party and various right wing movements in the States are not only fervently opposing taking action to curb our destructive activities, they want to ramp them up. The gentleman I was talking to today said that at least our Conservative government at home (two of whose ministers were in an exclusive Calgary audience last week to listen to Sarah Palin lambast "snake oil" climate science) at least makes some attempt to spin itself as green, something the American right evidently feels is not even worth the trouble of bothering to do.

This hodge podge of movements has gained a lot of its strength by successfully portraying people's livelihoods and lifestyles as reliant on the status quo, and the imperative of taking action as the work of some evil deluded liberal politicians and fringe activists. The media has covered them both postively and negatively, but has also probably given them too much exposure (here they are the sitting government, so they had no choice), and now they have presented them as a viable, momentum-gaining alternative to environmentalism and conservation. And it seems to have worked. Because people don't like to think or admit that what they're doing is wrong. Especially when it feels good to just keep doing what you're doing.

Not wrong in itself. I am not going to proclaim with certainty that mining uranium, burning coal, driving SUVs, eating livestock from massive feedlots, and blasting the AC with the windows open makes you a war criminal because it raises the temperature. Doing so only provides easy fodder for the deniers, who will be relying on leaked emails until kingdom come to support their claim. What I am arguing is that these activities have only been happening in earnest for a few years. Without the massive amounts of petroleum they are all dependant on they will no longer be possible. So why don't we try conserving the petroleum we have and figure out how to manage the economy more effectively for everyone? We have it in us.

Because we our own worst enemy.

Do you know the story of Yemen? Little country on the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Shit is hitting the fan there; the government is weak and corrupt, people are dirt poor, the army is trying to fight two different separtist movements in the North and South simulataneously, and the CIA is on the ground trying to get the scoop on al-Qaida, supposedly very active in this state. The country, in addition to these massive problems, looks like it will be the first on earth to run out of water, in 10-15 years. And the water they have now? Two thirds of it goes to the cultivation of qat, an herb that men there chew on non-stop that gives a light, speed-methamphetimine type of buzz. It's a deep rooted cultural tradition and bla, bla, bla, but does it not also appear to be a terribly out of whack priority? Like self-destructive behaviour?

In North America the 1% who have gone from controlling 9% to 24% of the wealth in 30 years, whose salaries have risen from 24 to 450 times the average in 50 years, the elite, continue to blabber on this crap about the recovery. A return to growth, profits, and higher emissions. Which will also bring more scandals, speculation and inequality. Because petroleum is our qat, its the lifeblood behind everything in North America (I didn't mention that it's a mainstay of Yemen's economy) and nobody wants or thinks they need to kick the habit. George Bush, no environmentalist himself, admitted America was addicted to oil. He went through the 12 steps to get off booze. I wonder if North American governments will, after the year of denial that has followed the moment of reckoning, embark on the real 12 steps to economic recovery, which inevitably involves the kicking of that nasty petroleum drinking habit.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Teenaged Wasteland

I love Tabatha Southey at the Globe and Mail. She is the ultimate contrarian. Rather than bore us with comments about how little Canadians care about the environment, or making connections between a golfer's extra-marital trysts and, well, her own opinions, like many of her colleagues do, she provides truly fresh, original and logical insight. This is a welcome breath of fresh air to the often dunder-headed consensus that forms in the media around contemporary issues. Since her article was the only link I planned on providing today but hers tend to expire on the Globe Website (because, I suspect, they are so good), I will just copy and paste the whole thing here.

Quit it with the teen trashing

I don't know why we're so cruel to adolescents.

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Tabatha Southey

Published on Friday, Mar. 19, 2010 4:37PM EDT Last updated on Friday, Mar. 19, 2010 4:45PM EDT

At first I was only mildly bothered by an editorial cartoon that appeared in this paper on Monday. The cartoon showed four loutish, slovenly adolescents, three of whom were saying "Whadda you wanna do?" or "I dunno, whadda you wanna do?" and then there was a final teenager saying, "Something sedentary and electronic."

But then it occurred to me that somewhere in Canada, some parent was no doubt starting some poor child's March Break off by showing that child that cartoon. Or perhaps laughing, ostentatiously, over breakfast, just waiting for their innocent child to say, "Hey, what's so funny?" So that they could pounce.

Probably some extra-vigilant parent was even waking his or her child up, early, to show them the cartoon. No doubt some passive-aggressive mother was taping it to the fridge, where it will stay, demoralizing a child, until it turns yellow. And that makes me sad.

Globe and Mail editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins

Globe and Mail editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins

I don't know why we're so cruel to adolescents. I can't imagine so harsh a caricature (they're ugly, slouching, sloppy and overweight) going unremarked were it depicting any other demographic – say, slouching, sloppy, overweight, grownup people, who likely have a lobby group. But if there's one thing we're still allowed to hate, it's teenagers.

Never mind that statistics show that today's teenagers smoke less marijuana, get pregnant less and go on to higher education more than the previous generation. We still hate them.

Once a symbol of hope, we now reference our youth only as something to be feared (the government's new crime bill is a good example) and if we can't hate them for dropping out, we'll hate them for using cell phones – as if we didn't spend hours on the phone ourselves, back when telephones were plugged into the wall, which truly did make us sedentary.

And as if generations previous to us did not hang around waiting for the mail to come. One never hears a mother in a Victorian novel complain that their child is "addicted to the second post," but a child on the Internet is always portrayed as a problem. I hear parents express remorse that their children are making friends on Facebook, which is the modern version of the old-fashion letter of introduction and "at home day" combined. Do they think their own teen years were any better spent, writing fan letters to the Bay City Rollers?

We hate children for playing video games, instead of board games, which were frequently far less challenging – unless you play the cool ones, like Carcassonne, which my children learned about from reading board game reviews online, where they often find their books. We hate teenagers for texting, even though a recent British study showed that – not surprisingly, as learning any second language increases one's awareness of one's first language – children who text more have increased confidence in their writing skills and write more in other mediums.

We mock grade school children for researching their projects on Wikepedia and for using Google images to illustrate them. Whereas we, I recall, when assigned a project on say, New Zealand, used to get most of our pictures and information from the local travel agent.

We also used to call in requests to the radio station and then wait at home, sedentary, in case the DJ played our song. Because we didn't have iTunes. We collected Wacky Cards – Mountain Goo, Minute Lice, Alpoo – instead of reading good satire at The Onion.

And so I salute you, sedentary youth of Canada. You will inherit the earth. I wrote this column for you, as a March Break craft. You'll some need scissors and tape.

I want you to cut this column out and then tape it over that editorial cartoon, if your mother, or father, has passive aggressively put it up on the fridge. Or if someone has, outrageously, taped that cartoon to the screen of your beloved laptop, I want you to tape this column securely to the windshield of his or her car.

Teenagers, fight for your right to play World of Warcraft, or whatever other inventive game intrigues you, because those games are an art form and frequently more witty and literate then whatever increasingly correct and improving book you're being forced to read in school. And mostly, kids, continue to explore online in whatever odd direction your mind takes you. Go and find your people. Because you're not ugly, and you're in the right.

Isn't that nice reading?

I have a confession to make. As a Gen Yer, I have read innumerable rants in Ms Southey's employer's pages, in Macleans, in North America all over, about how lazy, entitled, dumb, disrespectful and just plain hopeless my generation (1980-undetermined ending date) is. I have a few bones of my own to pick with the boomer majority above me from whom the majority of these opinions emit (And the folks above them tend to have either thrown in the towel with individualism and come full circle to 1st year university levels of idealism or be as stubborn as ever and make impassioned pleas for a return to 1957 Leave it to Beaver society, but all that intergenerational warfare is for another time and another day.) What is really scary is, 7+ years removed from teenagehood, I'm starting to do the same thing. I call it engaging in generacism. The older folks are an easy target because I think we find their habits an obstacle to solving the world's problems (Of course there are in my generation eager to join their suburban house buying, car driving, prime time watching ranks). But while I smugly seem to think I've got the older stock all figured out, having been around them all my life plus having the advantage of historical retrospective, the kids "these days" have got me sounding like a nursing home resident hunched over my walker spitting my fury onto the sidewalk.

American Idol, High School Musical, Jordan Sparks, Jonas Brothers, Twilight and whatever that dude in its' name is, Glee, Ringtones, Rainbow Parties, AĆ©ropostale?
What is all this finaglin' tomfoolery? When I was your age, we listened to Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica. We dyed our hair all different colours. Marilyn Manson put out successive satan and transgendered themed albums and that was very controversial because of columbine. Us kids used to skip school and play N64 and Playstation 1 with old fashioned controllers and nobody ever called us "at risk". I could buy cigarettes anywhere for under 5$ and smoke in the subway station bla bla get my drift?

Of course now, I'm a grown up (Some people my age are still getting away with partying hard but they should probably stop, if not for their dignity at least for their livers and lungs) and these musicians we listened to are in their early to mid forties contemplating how to be useful while sitting on an enormous pile of royalties (hint: usually by not putting out new music). And to my utter disbelief, the kids today aren't interested in what was cool when I was their age (One day they might be if it in fact has merit and stands the test of time). I have to reconcile my prejudices with that fact, because on the bus they all look damn strange to me. Sure they're into the same things we were, but all the skateboard brands have been bought by conglomerates and can now be purchased at malls, and all the piercings are in new places. In my day you had to go down to Queen Street (which has, incidentally, been turned into a giant outdoor mall, skate stores I spent my minimum wage paycheques at included), and only tongues and eyebrows were pierced.

Why am I writing about this today? Well, like Tabatha, in honour of March break, which I just spent with my teenage brothers in South Carolina. Yes, I'll spare you the long horrifying tales of incosideration and behaviour worthy of medieval nobility (as in, they are the centre of the universe and you are at their eternal service) to say this: in my province today, high school kids are learning the periodic table, philosophy, and programming languages, things I got away without learning all, and doing it in a year less than I did. They are being pushed, and it is hurting some but, I believe, raising the common denominator. I see more 50 year olds than 15 year olds addicted to blackberrys (what minimum wage earner can afford the data plan on one of those?) and more grey haired status quo defenders than librette pierced ones. Despite my band's name and the risks that I recognize are involved in the youngsters of todays inheiritance of our legacy (and when have there ever not been), I am not a proponent of erasing the future.

***I have become irregular on here and I am bothered by it. The full time work is kicking my ass. But I just had a nice trip, which was thanks to the alignment of some fortunate circumstances, and I will now aim for the modest but not slack target of two posts a week.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Paranoia, Suspicion and L'art du vivre ensemble...

As I prepare to go on a family vacation to South Carolina (my 'family' has not taken a 'vacation' in five years together), I have realized that I have not posted in fifteen days, nor in this month of March. Several subjects entered my mind over the course of this time, but the job is wearing on my senses and my ability to stay awake. However, there has been no shortage of fodder for this soapbox; politics, environment, extremism, you name it. No rest for the wicked

I was disappointed to see this morning twin editorials from our two distinguished Toronto papers pooh-pooing the Quebec government's decision to prohibit niqab wearing in free, government provided, immigrant French class. They have committed the mother of politically-corrected narrow minded errors by saying that banning one thing is a slippery slope and soon there will just be human rights cases piled on human rights cases over what's acceptable in the public sphere and who's to say what's what and blah blah.

I don't want to debate what is reasonable and what is acceptable here because I think those things are subjective and relative and we waste too much time, breath, and ink as it is on them, none of which will ever in any case produce any reasonable conclusion or consensus. But I do think this political correctness inhibits our ability to have honest debates and speak our minds freely. I want to make this overexposed (pardon the irony) woman a proposition: could I go to Cairo, her hometown, and run down the street in a leather thong-tutu BDSM contraption with matching Rob Halford leather policeman hat? No, I wouldn't survive. Just as I thought. And by the same token, Canadian men do not for the most part engage publicly such behaviour nor is it representative of us. If, however, one of us did it there, the imams and religious opinion leaders would be tubthumping on about western depravity and moral bankruptcy (not that they don't already), fanning ever more the flames of intolerance. Just as one woman's choice to dress up like a lump of coal fuels streams of anti-muslim ranting on the article comment pages and across the blogosphere in this country.

The question I have for the medias is why they are going after the mostly tolerant and forward looking Quebec government over its decision to have a pair and not after Mark Steyn's monthly anti-Muslim rant in Maclean's (published by Ken Whyte, a Harper friend) or the CPAC conventions with Dick Cheney on stage complaining about muslim terrorists, body scanners, and how (this is what I think he is really trying to say in most of his public speaking) we need to subject all the islamofascists to, well, fascism.

The fact that is 2010 we have nothing better to do than pursue this lame, tired, old east vs. west, evangelicalism vs. islamic extremism, spineless political correctness vs. rabid intolerance debate is telling. When I was a kid, I thought we'd be on hoverboards and living in jetson style pods by this year. Apparently not. To sell papers, its all about preying on people's economic worries and insecurity while reinforcing their comfort in the status quo.

Because in the big empty peaceable kingdom, some shocks appear to be in the works. CHeck out the Alberta government's decision to reverse it's hikes on oil sands royalties this week. In response to an upstart populist right wing movement (Wildrose Alliance) that just got Albertans so darn angry that the government dared to get some money back for them from the tar sands, the sitting government changed its tone. It was no longer going to be taxing oil sands profit and using the money for useful things like...expensive studies on unproven technology figuring out ways to store carbon in the ground and ad campaigns to greenwash the oil industry...out of the question now. Now, the oil companies can just keep all the money they suck out of the ground in Northern Alberta. The decision overjoyed the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Why wouldn't it? It comes back to that typical North American mentality of finding a scientific solution, even a costly, idiotic one to a problem rather than simply addressing the problem itself. When this is shown to have no credibility, or just not to be a priority on people's mind, the Daniel Plainview character that is the Canadian Natural Resources industry steps in and persuades the dumb to keep on being dumber. The political landscape of this province shows me we got big problems.

And the fact that this is a provincial government in the Canadian federation causes problems. The federal government knows it can't alienate this province and it also knows a giant fissure is forming on the Ontario border. Answer? Say nothing, be unavailable, and place head firmly in sand. Just like the budget last week...spend more, cut more, and as for the demographic title wave on the horizon...head back in the sand. Sorry, what did you say? Environment? You meant "economy", right? Why plan for tomorrow when you can score political points today?

Because people will continue to remain distracted, after all, by the stock market ticker, Sarah P.'s antics, the weather, the mosque opening up next door or just about anything. We may have learned to live together better in 2010 but in our isolation from each other we don't necessarily like each other any better. And Paranoia, suspicion and indifference are distracting and preventing us from tackling the real big problems which will be our downfall.