Sunday, 27 June 2010

Addicted to Chaos

Thank you, Maureen Dowd at the New York Times, for being such an insightful observer and bringing your style and wit this weekend to the issue of cellphone radiation and potential consequences of heavy, long-term cellphone use.

The great read is attached here
and the jist is that many studies have been done and a wide variety of conclusions has been reached, none of which are very positive. But I'll leave the finer details for scientists and policy makers to figure out, and add on a personal note that I tried the whole car-cellphone thing in 2007 and found that the phone, like the car, is not for me (costs far outweight benefits, in my humble opinion). I admit that I have been instinctively paranoid about holding a hot, overheated, lithium filled, radiation emitting piece of plastic next to my brain for hours on end, or in my pocket a couple inches from my junk. And there again I find myself out of step with the mainstream, though it is certainly not derived from any misguided desire to be "different". I can say, though, that many people seem to be genuinely offended at my choosing (it was still a choice, last time I checked) not to have a mobile device.

What is so interesting about the article is its documenting of the strong arm bully tactics and naked threats used by the wireless industry and a consortium of tech companies on the mayor of San Francisco because of a recent initiative there to make cellphone sellers post radiation levels of the products in store. The organization representing the industry, the CTIA, working closely with giants ironically based in the SF area - Apple, Oracle, Cisco - threatened to cancel a conference scheduled to take place in the city in October and used words like "nuclear" to describe the consequences for all those involved if this policy moves forward.

It is interesting to see how this relatively new and still enormously profitable industry has already developed a fortress-phalanx block to agressively lobby government on its behalf. Because it is clearly a very vulnerable industry. Regardless of whether crackberrys and iphones are selling like hotcakes now or will be symbols of irrelevent dinosaurs that need to be bailed out by the government in five, ten, or twenty years, brass has clearly got already together and decided they need to have the ear of government just in case their goose (the person who never puts down or stops tapping on their smartphone, you may have come across such a person or eight million in your travels) stops laying the Golden eggs.

There is nothing strange there, you say, and there is nothing new. It is perfectly normal for drug companies, oil companies, food, sugar, soft drink and salt companies, and military-defence contractors, to name a few, to lobby governments on their behalf. Because how can they be sure that some hotshot stick in the mud M.P. or liberal mayor isn't going to try and win a few thousand votes on their backs over some punitive legislation aimed at them? Sure it's easy to scapegoat the oil sands or BP or Wal Mart or Coca Cola. But meanwhile, these companies are providing livelihoods, raising living standards and improving lives everywhere they operate, not to mention that their legitimacy is validated by continued strong demand for their products. So what is wrong with companies having someone with a deep chequebook over at the legislature to make sure that taxes stay low, that regulations are lax or non existant, and that the government's official stance about them and what they do is silence or denial? It's simply the cost of doing business (A cost that companies do complain about and wishfully think would go away if people just shut up and let them do whatever they wanted.)

There it is, I spelled it out. Businesses must produce something addictive to be profitable, and they must ensure that they have unfettered access to the continual feeding of these addictions. They will do anything and everything, spin and manoeuver, to protect this primary and all-important goal. To accomplish this, they have 1) a clear purpose (producing their product) 2) a clear goal (selling their product) and 3) a clear message. Other than the obvious greatness of this product everybody wants, we are satisfying demand, providing jobs, and paying too much tax to the state. So fuck off.

As a nation, as a continent, and as a broader entity known as "the west", we are quite happy in our complacent doldrums to have these terms dictated to us. So much so that, during a summit of international leaders who are one for all and all for one in the back pockets of these various industries, we are indignant and disgusted by the antics of so-called "non-state" actors. Anarchists, misfits, petty criminals and a random assortment of shit disturbers that we only hear about when these things happen are causing a surprising amount of trouble this time (a burned police car?! in Toronto) and Marcus Gee, the high priest of white Toronto upper middle class indignation, thunders from his "Analysis" pulpit at the Globe

"Who are you people? What do you want? Why are you destroying property? Why don't you respect law and order? What is the point of your violence? What do you stand for?" are the furious questions asked by his piece.

The incoherence of the protestors is thus their ticket to be written off and marginalized as a dangerous, irrelevant lunatic fringe. On the comment boards, people want blood. The protestors. For daring to question the order, not just with words but with actions. Actions whose message is primarily "Fuck you and fuck all this bullshit." The anarchists won't find a lot of sympathy for this message in the Canadian public. We live in Canada, after all, and there's never been a revolution here. No one has been killed over their political views since Louis Riel. And the government, with the complicity of citizens who for the most part manifest it in their indifference, is mostly concerned about turning the country into a fortress that we are free to consume and waste in (It sort of already is). Thus the tendency of people who come from places where the government has been forced to break out the tanks, where there wasn't enough to eat, to call us "naive". Most of us who are alive and born here have never been through real suffering here or been truly oppressed.

That doesn't make the political views or causes of the protestors irrelevant or unimportant. The intellectually lazy, and consequently overwhelming reaction is "These are a bunch of punks and there's no place for a couple hundred rogue agitators in our society so horde 'em up, string 'em up and hang 'em from the highest pole." People HATE seeing the status quo threatened. Me personally, I do share some values and opinions with "No one is illegal" immigrant justice groups, "No olympics on stolen native land" aboriginal activists, "Eco-warrior"-types who come down hard on resource extracting industries, "Queer activists" who stand up for the last group on Earth that is still hated and discriminated against openly, "Marxists" who question capitalism and where its leading us, and people just reclaiming the public space that is ever more encroached upon by international political corporate wack off sessions that accomplish nothing.

But by then I've lost nine tenths of the people. No consistent message, no clear purpose, no appeals to addictions that people are adamant about feeding. Just idealism, complexity and intellectual honesty. And pulling in a million different directions for the same team. It will not be possible to challenge the status quo until you make challenging it something the "tyranny of the majority" wants and needs to do. Which, alas, will be difficult until the system begins to show it's cracks. Until then, the majority will remain addicted to smartphones, mcdonalds, alcohol, petroleum, cable TV, shitty movies, and plastic, and the anarchists will remain addicted to chaos.

Friday, 25 June 2010

G184


 

It feels hard to write about anything other than the G20 these days, and it feels even harder to say anything original or make sense of it. Even the media is split between reporting on protests and threats, real and imagined, or on the so called "business" at hand for these "very important people" to discuss. Both of these things mean very little in the grand scheme of things, and yet for a week they are omnipresent in the public and media space. And for Toronto and Southern Ontario they do mean a lot…of enormous inconvenience, and everybody I've talked to seems to agree that it's pretty much bullshit. From the cops expanding range of weapons and tactics to the Ontario government's silent passing of draconian laws giving them extra powers to deal with potential muckrackers, the population is being forced to deal with a series of slaps in the face that gives them no tangible benefits. The largest is a suffocated locked down downtown where business can't operate on one of our relatively rare beautiful summer weekends. Even the Conservative government's regular handjob-and-reacharound provider, MacLean's magazine (not that that prevents it from employing some astute columnists and having some very interesting articles sometimes; we make do with what we have in our choice-free Canadian media landscape) , had a lambasting cover recently screaming "What a waste of a billion dollar boondoggle." or some equally sensational vitriol.


 

It's evident that people are pissed. You don't have to be a patchouli scented stoned unshaven white english speaking B.A. student palestinian activist from Mississauga (sorry, quick stereotype off the top of my head) to be annoyed at the leaders of the twenty richest nations on Earth in terms of GDP (because that's all that matters in the definition of "richness", obviously) putting massive cement walls of tasers and riot gear clad meatheads around themselves while they have a powwow for three days. It is demeaning and insulting to anyone with a little self respect, regardless of their political stripes. The very clear message is we're at the top and you're at the bottom, and that's why you're paying for this security out of your taxes. It's our insurance to make sure you don't cause trouble. Right. And I guess that's the "leader of the free world" you got there in your conference. The president of the United States, Barack Obama, the guy who was supposed to bring "hope" and "change". I guess what he really meant was "pessimism" and "cynicism". I'd feel a lot better if he said that. But of course, we humans are still busy taking ourselves ever so seriously, entrusting authoritarians of various nations who managed to seize their countries media machines far and wide enough to get elected (Berlusconi is the most extreme example; Sarkozy, Harper and Cameron, in that order, all owe their success to the majority of their countries media establishments' love affairs with right wing politics, and China and Russia are just nakedly authoritarian), and listening to their straight faced drivel about the economy, recovery, the environment, and lifting the third world out of poverty. Because they really, really just do want the best for all of us, every one.


 

The fact that this is not overtly celebrated as high octane, exciting mix of talent and innovation charting a bold new course for our world but rather a meeting of middle aged guys, some more outspoken than others, to discuss vague rhetoric on how to work together, manage the economy and save humanity, tells me there is a dearth of talent in global leadership. Anger at the summit is not so much at why these guys exist as to what do they expect to accomplish? Were centralized political structures in big business' back pocket not so counterintuitive to the successful flourishing of human society, I would advocate for all the excluded nations to hold a meeting somewhere. Unfortunately, they are by and large beseiged by these same parasitic forces.


 

Take away the world's joke dictators and authoritarian punching bags, like Mugabe, Jong-Il, that asshole in Sudan, and the Silk Road "stan" countries one man post soviet dictatorships, and the men in charge of the G184 want the same things as the men in the G20. Thomas Friedman at the New York Times talks about world issues in these wide reaching, simple, sports coverage-grand bargain terms and deplores the lack of vision and originality across the board in a way I really identify with, but he with his influence remains a believer in the ridiculous core concept that we put all our stock in. Weak or strong at home, favoured or mocked privately by so-called "rich" nations, these G184 leaders legitimize the wills of their peoples and curry favour with the international community by saying the same thing we hear at G20 and Davos and all this other bullshit. The almost seven billion strong potential of diversity in human perspective reduced to a single word at the highest level of basket we put all our democratic eggs in: Growth.


 

So growth works like this: to be "competitive", a country must do a number of things. #1 – Auction off your natural resources to foreign companies at bargain basement prices. Do not collect any profits or these countries will go to the other places that have the gold, oil, water, coal, or uranium you covet. #2 – Encourage big, established companies to establish themselves in your major cities, or find them yourself. If they ever get too big and find themselves on the wrong end of the business cycle and unable to keep up, bail them out. That is to help #3 – international investors. You need these. Without them, you won't survive. Nobody knows who they are, what they are pursuing or why they do all that crazy international investing that they do but your country's fate lies in their balance. Don't ever let them find out that your consumers have no #4 – Confidence. Oh yeah, about that last rule, your citizens are no longer citizens they are consumers. And they're ability to consume is based on their ability to suspend their disbelief and spend all of the windfall of your short term, short sighted wasteful policies on plastic goods, electronics, new cars, and other various crap that serves no real purpose or benefit. You'll have to prop this up at first by allowing payments to be made on credit, then later by directly subsidizing it. It will be necessary to do this more and more often as the international investors will demand it. 6) Another way you can get money is by tourism – reduce your citizens to zoo exhibits wherever possible. Don't bother telling people to discover your culture or build character by learning something new; make it seem chez vous as much like everywhere else as much as possible. Build hotels, resorts, condos and other various useless structures which will probably not be occupied or enjoyed by many people but are a superficial way to please, oh there they are again, international investors. Equally useful white elephants include massive malls, conference centres, golf courses and highways. There will always be summits where you can reiterate your commitment to international investors in case they start circling like sharks. But these will ring hollower and hollower.


 

Some day. But not anytime soon. You're a rich nation now. This means you have the right to be among the most indebted on Earth. Your citizens are entitled to a constantly ballooning amount of direct and indirect entitlements, you have to borrow to maintain your outdated infrastructure, your population is aging, you collect fewer taxes to provide more services, and yet the rest of the world is still banging down your door because they think the streets are paved with gold. Welcome to the world of the G20, G184. The G20 dream. Someday, this could be you. You're already working hard to get there.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Me and the (comment board of the) CBC

This guy (it surely is a guy) doesn't haven't a name or a face. He's 1 out of 600+ comments. Nobody. Yet his bullet points eerily resembled things I hear all the time, from the most subtle to the most overt. His arguments are in fact a picture of having mastered doing what you're told to perfection


I see that all the conspiracy theorists, anarchists, socialists, welfare cases and other free riders are out in force tonight.

Yeah. Nothing like labels to drive your lack of an argument home. If you are so convinced that these people are pathetic, useless, pointless leeches, then why do they get under your skin to the point of you going online and describing them in these pejorative terms?

Did you ever consider the possibility of getting a real job and working to solve your issues from the inside, rather than taking them to the streets?

This is really one of the richest aspects of angry, status quo lovin' rhetoric. You're just saving the world, going to work and paying your taxes. Which obviously nobody else does except you. You got that real job you have on the strength of your wits and the sweat of your brow, never getting a cent from anybody. Those roads you drive on, that education you got, that unemployment you wouldn't hesitate to collect if you haven't already, you're entitled to those entitlements. But the rest of society is just a parasitic slush fund that dares to encroach on the fruits of your hard labour. I go to work and pay taxes just like you, and you know what? This is supposed to be a democracy, a marketplace of ideas, and I have every right as a citizen to be diametrically opposed to your fascist demands to conform.


Do you really think that anyone apart from your cohorts give a damn about what you have to say? Do you really know anybody, who, when they hear that 1% of the world's population controls 90% of its wealth, are okay with that fact? Do you know anybody who can defend real estate speculation, resource pillaging, hideous sprawl development, corporate consolidation, and the World Bank and IMF with honest, intellectual arguments as fair and beneficial forces that work in humanity's best interests? These are not true capitalist structures, and they are not deserving of the influence they hold. Many an intellectually honest conservative has denounced these things for the damaging and monopolistic parasitic forces that they are.

Don't you think that if we didn't have to spend a small fortune protecting ourselves against your idiocy, we might have a little more money available to address your issues? Yes, because these are "our" issues. Not your issues. We're not in this together. You're in your irreproachable little bubble, and the forces I described in my previous rebuttal either don't concern you or work in your favour. What makes Canada so special to have this cost 20x what it cost in other Western countries? Well, what's special is the vindictive little prick prime minister wants to flex his muscles and put the elite liberals in his hometown that doesn't vote for him in their place. He just had to have this thing THERE, in the biggest population centre of a largely barren country with the world's second largest land mass. And this government doesn't mind spending money on that. Just look at the war on drugs they're trying to launch and the prisons their mouths are watering in the hope of building. Yes, if everyone agreed with the government, then we wouldn't need any of this. But that would make us a totalitarian regime, which high-falutin right wing colleagues such as yourself claim to be so ardently opposed to.



The sad truth is that you just enjoy the thought of being activists. You have nothing valuable to say or contribute, so why not just bitch about everything?
And you seem to be so happy and complacent about things just the way they are, so why not just sit on your arse and call it a day? Do you think the enlightenment thinker-influenced American and French revolutionaries should have just packed it in? They could have said, well, hey, at least we're not cavemen. Look how great our lives are compared to hunter gatherers. But they didn't. And I suspect that you have since benefited from it. Protesting may seem lame to you, but fiercely defending the status quo with vitriol is even lamer.


You are indeed fortunate to live in a country that allows your protests. Many of the regimes you seek to emulate would have you jailed or shot as traitors. Which is clearly what you wish would happen here

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2010/06/21/g20-torontoprotest.html#socialcomments#ixzz0rXpTy41P

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Diverse Nation or Conspiracy Against Blue Monolith?

To hear the country's conservative media tell it, and the majority of the country's media is, Canada has undergone a vast, transformative change in the 2000 decade, and is now a uniformly western, english-speaking, religious and conservative place. Climate science is junk which will kill the economy, and the East is a dubious entity of liberal socialism funded by western natural resources that the West worked so hard to find itself sitting on top of. The public broadcaster and the cities of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are the deluded and doomed few remaining fragments who buy into outdated "liberal Canadian values", and they should really get with the times and the program. This country wants low taxes, an aggressive militaristic international stance and conservative blue, blue, blue M.P.s from sea to shining sea.

When you read analyses like these, that seems to be the message to take away. I'm no fan of Mike Ignatieff and doubt I'll be able to hold my nose and vote liberal, and I'm not interested in offering the liberals up as an alternative or defending them. But the liberals are the only other option the conservative media even considers, and that makes their job easy, given the knack Ignatieff seems to have at constantly setting his party up to be a punching bag.

No. This posting is to respond to this line of thought that I see penetrating into columns and commentary in the nation and wish to attempt to debunk before it becomes false dogma. That 33 million Canadians woke up one day and discovered they were dyed in the wool partisans of the Reform/Conservative party.

First of all, I would bet money that these columnists all live in the very cities they accuse of blocking their beloved government's agenda with outdated political taste. There's a good chance that they do, given that between 11 and 12 million Canadians live in either the GTA, GVA, or GRM. And if that slice of the population is too small, if they're still convinced that the "urban liberal conspiracy" is out to get them, then I will expand my criteria to the 9 metropolitan areas that 80% of Canadians live in or the 20 that over 90% live in.

Face it: this is an urban nation and we suffer from the same problem of disproportionate representation, albeit to a less absurd degree, as the American electoral college. Why does Scarborough (population 800,000) have 5 or 6 seats while Saskatchewan (population 950,000) has 12 or 13? I guess Saskatchewan's votes matter more, that's the only explanation I can think of. Any argument in favour of this disproportionality amounts to saying that some Canadian citizens' votes are worth more than others based on where they choose to live.

All right, all right. I know. I'm trying to re-draw the electoral map around Toronto, stupid insignificant Toronto with the 1 in 6 Canadians who live there. Let's set aside divisive urban/rural talk and the total lack of political decision making cities have relative to their power and importance. Let's look around instead at some other different, smaller areas of Canada. Take out a map and get ready for the cross country tour. Victoria, BC. (NDP) Let's see...hmmm...Manitoba (Provincial NDP, 3 NDPs) Northern Ontario; they're all hicks up there right? (No Conservatives). Newfoundland? (No conservatives) PEI? (One out of 4 MPs is Conservative) Halifax? (NDP, Provincial government also NDP). Kingston, Ontario? Northwest Territories? Markham ? Moncton? Mississauga? London? Edmonton-Strathcona? That last one is in ALBERTA; the Cons are even missing a seat there. That's not to say they lack support or even that they have no support in urban centres - of course they do and I realize that. They also don't have every single vote in the ridings they win. Which is why I believe the current first past the post system is broken and undemocratic. But I'm arguing with the media here over their perspective here, the people who love the politics of division à la Karl Rove that is the government's modus operandi and call them genius for using it.

MSM, (that means "mainstream media" in blog speak) please turn down the rhetoric already. The conservatives don't have a majority, so stop acting like they do. They should, with all the propoganda and praise you heap on them, but they don't. All the propoganda and praise for the leader, I should say. Have you ever wondered who actually is in the government? Those 143 Conservative M.P.s that were elected to represent their districts and are forbidden to speak without PMO permission? No, me neither, and I really wish the media would stop wasting everyone's time on Lisa Raitt and Helena Guergis. That two women in this government get lambasted over smoke and mirrors, I think, is a shame, given how few there are in the caucus to begin with. No, I'm talking more about M.P.s from the heartland, the base territory, the bedrock CPC areas. Check these guys out. Get to know some members of the government. Of course you've never heard of them; they're not allowed to speak to anybody.

Maurice Velicotte, M.P., Saskatchewan - Lengthy proven track record as a prominent defender of white people's rights and priveleges over inferior natives, who make up the majority in his province (only province where that is the case.)

Gerry Breikhautz, M.P., Saskatchewan - Gun lobbyist and enthusiast, Canada's answer to Charlton Heston, mainstay at gun lobby/events conventions

Gerry Ritz, M.P., Saskatchewan - Agriculture minister and agriculture subsidy pork barrel extraordinaire and GMO/Monsanto patent lobby defender at home and abroad.

Ken Epp, M.P., Manitoba - Ardent pro-lifer who has introduced anti-abortion private member's bills.

Gary Goodyear M.P. - Ontario - Chiropractor, science/technology minister who also happens to be a creationist evangelical and threw the Canada Research Council out of his office after he turned their meeting into a screaming match.

Maxime Bernier, M.P., Quebec - Recently wrote in La Presse that while it was possible that climate change was caused by humans, it was equally possible that it wasn't.

Vic Toews, M.P., justice minister, Manitoba - I owe Dan Savage for this one because the Canadian media didn't report on it. This guy, a leading crusader against gay marraige, cheated on his wife of 25 years with a much younger woman and knocked her up! What happened with that story?

Well, this is our government. Google each one of those guys; I'm not making stuff up. And I would like to tell the folks at the Post and Macleans and yes, even the Globe, that the government is not on the verge of a massive sea to sea landslide. I'm not saying these guys are evil incarnate, I'm just saying to stop portraying them as destined heroes that are the greatest thing Canada can aspire to be led by. I don't want to get caught in regional bashing and undermining, but as much as you feel the need to constantly remind Toronto that not everyone in Canada lives there, it needs to remind you that not everyone lives in North Battleford or Lethbridge or Cambridge or Steinbech or any of these other towns that seem to revel in electing corrupt reactionaries. Our country is diverse, and while I can appreciate that one vision monopolized it for a long time (Trudeau/Chrétien) and marginalized the vision of the current government, the current government is now trying to impose its vision as a monopoly. Because we're a monopoly-loving country. But I believe it is our duty as citizens to be critical and criticize these monopolies, real or imagined. And I will continue to, despite the efforts deployed by the MSM to convince me that I live in a conservative utopia.