Sunday, November 9, 2008

What do the racists and crazies do now?

Now that the "Muslim" named "Hussein" ("that one" who "palls around with terrorists") has won the election, what's going to happen to all the wackos and nutbars who couldn't fathom an Obama victory?

As it became more and more likely that Barack Obama might actually win the presidency, the level of fear among racists and xenophobes in the US reached a fever pitch. At times it seemed like McCain would be overrun by the colourful characters who would show up to his rallies to explain "He's a Muslim," and scream "Kill him!"

Like rats out of the woodwork, these bigots emerged to remind us why Obama's run for president is so historic. Underneath the vaneer of a diverse, freedom-for-all America lurk lingering prejudices.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read a story in the Globe and Mail about one Missouri voter. would be easier [for him] if Mr. Obama were white. In fact, he would find it difficult to vote for him if he were really African-American - "that's black slave American," he helpfully explains to this foreigner.

...Fortunately, Barack Obama's not really an African-American, just an American with an African father. But still, he feels "queasy" about that.
The loathing of American blacks is so strong in this man that having a black father born in another continent is to Obama's credit.

In another interview, for the PBS program NOW, a Virginia woman named Tracy said this:
I can't imagine having a president of the United States being named President Obama! I really have a problem with that. And I am not the only one.

... A mother that was an atheist. Ho! That really gets to me. A father that was a Muslim. That should get to everyone!

But the Obamas say they're faith-based, the interviewer offers. They're Christians.
The church they were members of, that's not the Christianity I know. That's not the Christianity that's in the bible.

It's amazing to watch how this hateful woman hides her bigotry behind Christianity. She even wields religion like a knife at her husband's throat. The interviewer asks what Tracy thinks about him considering voting for Obama to protect his job.

"I will pray for him," she says ominously. "He knows what the right decision is."

Despite Tracy's desperate prayers, the state of Virginia went for Barack Obama on election day.

So, what will she do now? And what will all the "Kill him!" screamers do? These crazies have all but disappeared from the media spotlight as the chattering classes have shifted the gabfest to Obama's transition. But does that mean the racist scum hiding in the dark, moist crevice of American society has vanished, or at least gone into hibernation?

I doubt it.

Click here to watch the NOW piece about swing voters in Virginia. The interview with Tracy starts at 9:10.

Thanks, Dubbya!

Ironically, the Democratic sweep of Congress and the White House is the positive legacy George W. Bush has desperately been seeking.

All over the world, people celebrated the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States with joy, and also relief that the destructive Bush era was finally nearing its end. For many outside the US, there was also a bit of Obama-envy.

"How come the US gets to have an inspirational figure like Obama? We want one too!"

This certainly has been the case in Canada, where 15% of recently polled people would have given up a vote in the country's recent federal election to vote for Obama in the US election instead. Many disappointed voters have looked down on their uninspiring lot of politicians and asked, Where's our Obama?

The simple answer is that we didn't have a Bush, so we don't get an Obama. It might seem strange to think that the hyper-partisan Republican Bush would have played any part in getting the Democratic candidate elected, but it's true that through his irritating folksy-ness, unrelenting dishonesty, and overwhelming incompetence Dubbya has set the stage for someone with class, intelligence and integrity to really shine.

It also fits perfectly with the philosophy of yin and yang, which emphasizes the balance between light and dark, positive and negative. One flows from the other. Without darkness, you cannot recognize the light. Without 8 years of fear, lies and war, you cannot truly appreciate a message of hope and transcendence.

George Bush has spent much of second term desperately hoping to achieve something--anything--positive that future generations will remember him for. Many in the administration and partisan hacks outside it (like in the Wall Street Journal) have even attempted comparisons to Lincoln, laughably proposing that Bush will be revered by future generations that will understand his great efforts better than we can today.

Well, Bush should be happy to know that finally there's a Bush legacy that isn't death and destruction, economic ruin, or political division. His disastrous presidency has produced such antipathy and weariness among American voters, that Obama and his "Yes we can!" mantra has swept the White House and crippled the Republican Party.

Thanks Dubbya!

A political cartoon from 2002, when it was clear America had entered a period of darkness (or yin) after years of bright prosperity (yang).

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dreaming of Tomorrow

It's election day in the US tomorrow. Regardless of the outcome, it will be written about in 21st century history books--world history, as well as American. I feel like it's Christmas Eve, and I don't know how I'll sleep tonight. The entire world is now watching the US, waiting for the future to arrive.

Here are a few thought about the election, Obama, and the world after tomorrow:

The Democrat should win

Bush and his party are at historic levels of unpopularity, the economy is in the dumps, and Americans are tired of the status quo. After his reelection in 2004 Bush declared arrogantly that he had earned political capital and intended to spend it. Well, he's spent it all, and then some... Eight years of his rule has left his party in ruins, politically. The Democrats could be running a donkey as their candidate, and the donkey should be leading in the polls, simply based on the Republican's deep decline.

McCain is a good man, honorable and respectable. His campaign, however, has been none of these things. He has always had a reputation of being independent, reasonable and a sort of Republican-lite. It's why, after 8 years of bad Republican governance, the party chose him to lead it, to take the party in a new, more reasonable direction. So what did his campaign do? It threw away everything that made McCain unique and rebranded him as a hardcore conservative, God-fearing, gun-loving GOP'er. He's abandoned his principles and for that he deserves to lose.

Obama is a new voice

What's fascinating about Obama's personality, is how cool he is. The Republicans have called him every name in the book and tried every kind of smear. They've worked extremely hard to instill fear in Americans--and it's worked so well for them in the past. But Obama has cultivated a really powerful vision of change. He believes in America that overcomes and transcends the fear that has gripped the country since the September 11th attacks. And America is tired of being afraid.

It's so interesting to hear Obama's critics put him down as a celebrity, as being all style and little substance. The truth is that what has makes him so successful is not his charisma (like Clinton) or his easygoing warmth (like Bush in 2000). It's the absence of the folksy, have-a-bear-with characteristics that I think really resonate with people. When I see him on TV, hear his speeches and interviews, he actually comes across a bit cold and a bit detached--as well as thoughful, composed and that word pundits love to use derisively, 'professorial'. But the fact is, after 8 years of a folsky, fratboy president, a professor at the helm sounds pretty good. Obama inspires people because he conveys the substance of honesty and principles. He looks like a man who is determined to do things the right way. People are hungry for that.

If Obama wins, optimism will reign

I can't help but be caught up in the spirit of Obama, That is, when I see the image of a black president being sworn in, of a Democrat meeting international leaders, of a moderate voice speaking from the White House, I get excited. When I think of all the black children around the country--or any child that thinks themselves disadvantaged, in any part of the world--watching Obama do what many thought was impossible, my heart is warmed. When I think of the idea of a fair and sensible man, with dignity and honour, being in public office I am relieved that such a thing could still be possible. There is so much to be gloomy about these days. There has been so much harm done by the US, at home and abroad. An Obama presidency would be a lot to brighten people up.

If Obama wins, so much will NOT change

Yes, there's a lot of hope and a lot of hype that surrounds Obama. However, the reality is that as smart and popular and inspirational as President Obama would be, the road ahead is one of the most treacherous in modern history. The country is at war, the economy is flaccid, the debt and deficit is gargantuan, society is divided, the government is gridlocked and the environment is deteriorating. No one leader can solve all of this. And for people to get their hopes up that he will--in his first term--make everything magically better is foolish, to say the least.

Perhaps the biggest way the people think Obama will bring change is race. People think if America votes in Obama, it will prove racism has been finally vanquished in America. The sad fact is that racists won't disappear on November 5th. Indeed, they will be outraged and mobilized like never before. There will still be discrimination. There will still be disadvantaged blacks struggling to make ends meet. Yes, he would be--and is--a powerful symbol, but he is human (despite what McCain and Palin might say in desperation) and simply will not live up to all the expectations swirling around him.

America's electoral system is a catastrofuck!

While I'm excited about watching the election tomorrow, there's a part of me that's queezy. Frankly, I'm afraid the election will be stolen from Obama by Republican state government chicanery. I think it's insane that US elections are conducted in invidual counties by individual partisan-controlled state governments using a cornocopia of technologies that are expensive and often break down. In Canada we vote using pencils and paper, placing an X in a box beside the candidate we want to elect. An independent federal agency called Elections Canada administers and controls the process, free of partisan interference. All you need to vote is proof of address and picture ID. You don't need to declare yourself as a supporter of any one party and you don't have to register by any deadline. It's simple, and it works! The US system opens itself up to so many problems that I feel like tomorrow's election is just asking to be tampered with or outright stolen. I pray for a decisive win, because if it's close, pandora's box will explode like a neutron bomb, with recounts, revelations of disenfranchisement, lawsuits, and a wave of righteous anger.

If Obama loses, there will be chaos.

All the polls are saying Obama is ahead. They're saying he's leading in enough states to win the election. They say even if all the toss-up states go Red, and even if most undecideds go for McCain, Obama should still win if his numbers are stable. There is widespread expectation that he will be victorious.

However, it's pretty safe to say tomorrow will be a gong-show at polling stations. An unprecedented turnout is expected. Lines will snake through buildings and around street corners. Convoluted voting machines will break down. Many will give up after standing hours on their feet. Voter Registration redtape and typos will block some from casting their ballots. And if, after all this, McCain somehow emerges as the winner, there will be shock and anger of epic preportions. It would put the essense of American democracy in doubt and would tear the country into racial and generational factions. Blame would fly in every direction: "Republicans stole it!" "Whites stole it!" "The old establishment stole it!"

To be honest, I'm a bit scared. Let's just say, riots, are the least of what I think will take place if the result is widely seen as illegitimate, or even if the result isn't clear by the end of tomorrow night.

An assassination attempt on Obama is a question of when, not if

It pains me greatly to even write those words. However, as I've written, the racists in America will not go quietly if Obama is elected. Indeed, as long as Obama is in the White House there will be a enormous and constant risk to his life. And as large and skilled the Secret Service team is, I just don't think they can prevent an attempt on Obama's life. America has a long tradition of killing it's inspirational leaders. From Lincoln to JFK to Martin Luther King. Even old, white, Republicans have been shot (Ronald Reagan) though not fatally. I can't help but think this inspirational biography will end like so many--tragically.

Of course, I hope I'm wrong. And maybe I don't actually believe it will happen, but am just protecting myself, so that if he ever does get shot, I won't be as devastated and cynical. The worst possible scenario in my mind is him getting shot before he has a chance to truly make his mark, like Inauguration Day, or even Election Day, at the height of celebration and optimism about his presidency. If that happens, even I, all the way in Canada, might riot in the streets.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Don't Let People Bring You Down

Mushaboom - FEIST

(If you're too lazy to watch the whole video, cut to 1:18 to see what I mean.)

Friday, May 2, 2008

China, Join the Club

China is a superpower and should be respected as such. But unless the Chinese learn from the West's mistakes--particularly, on the environment--then they, and everyone else on this planet, is in big trouble!

This week's Economist carries an interesting piece about the flare-up of Chinese nationalism in the wake of Tibetan riots, last March. As much as the government seems to be the primary beneficiary of that outpouring of patriotic emotion--and as much as it may have helped inflame it--all that emotion could easily turn against the government:

Popular anger, once roused, can easily switch targets. This weekend China will be commemorating an event seen as pivotal in its long revolution—the protests on May 4th 1919 against the humiliation of China by the Versailles treaty... The Communist Party had roots in that movement.

Now, as then, protests at perceived slights against China's dignity could turn against a government accused of not doing enough to safeguard it.
Here's what's really striking. An example of how the Chinese people are not happy with the government is the environment:
People everywhere are aghast at the poisoning of China's air, rivers and lakes in the race for growth.
At the same time, according to the Economist, they resent the West lecturing China about pollution, calling it hypocrisy when Europe and America have basically created the problem:
They cite further evidence of double standards: having exported its dirtiest industries to China, the West wants the country to curb its carbon emissions, potentially impeding its growth and depriving newly well-off Chinese of their right to a motor car.
So on the one hand, they are disturbed by the wrecked state of their environment, but on the other they demand the right to destroy the environment just like Westerners are doing, apparently because pollution is modernity!

And that really scares me.

If the world has to wait for China--and other emerging giants, like India--to repeat all of the West's mistakes before they decide to deal with them properly, then we are fucked. (Excuse the vulgarity, but 'doomed' just doesn't convey the enormity of it). We must work together to make China a model of clean, sustainable growth. Then China could be a true world leader, rectifying a 100 years of bad policy in the West. For example, the whole gasoline/car infrastructure is already in place here. So to convert all the gas stations to hydrogen, or to close them all down in favour of electrically powered cars would be a mammoth undertaking. But that infrastructure is not yet in place in China. If we start now, China can avoid the mess we're in.

But the problem is, the Chinese want respect. They want everyone to recognize that China is a great, modern nation. But they don't want to face the same scrutiny that Western nations face.

I, for one, welcome China's emergence on the world stage. I welcome more Eastern philosophy and culture into the mainstream. I want China to join the club. But there's a cost of membership, and that's to play by the same rules and work on the same problems as the rest of us. The Earth--the one we all share, no matter which flag is flapping above your head--cannot sustain another 50 years of heavy polluting. It just can't handle another billion people driving, consuming energy, and producing waste.

We've got to start changing our ways--all of us--and the Chinese should see their current modernization as an opportunity to do things right, rather than lashing out and demanding the right to behave as badly as other nations.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


There's been talk recently about a giant floating island of garbage in the middle of the Pacific. A crew from sort of BBC WORLD meets MTV internet channel that I'm starting to get addicted to--set out to find this 'garbage island'. What they discover (besides sea sickness, cabin fever and smooching) is not a large mass of solid garbage spinning like a trash galaxy. Instead, the situation is far more disturbing. There are billions of small particles of semi broken down plastic polymers floating around everywhere. Birds eat it, sea life gets stuck in it, and the goo itself becomes a chemical sponge for various nasty compounds called persistant organic pollutants.

Garbage you can clean up. But what do you do when the rubbish is dissolved and inseparable from water? What do you do when 6.4 million tons of more trash is dumped into the oceans each year?

Here is episode 1 of Toxic: Garbage Island:

Watch the rest, here.

Photo Essay: Plants

After taking a few pictures celebrating the start of spring (see Winter is Dead?), I've been on a plant photo binge.

Here a few examples:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Post Post Modern Music: The Kills

This is a group I found on a hip blog last week. The song's called U R A Fever.

In an interview, the rock duo's Alison Mosshart said something interesting about the power of the internet that piqued my interest. It seems that blogs have developed a real power in spreading the word about good music and that is changing how the industry works:

This is a real moment of honesty and truth here because there was a moment in time, very recently, when big companies could market something--it could market the hell out of something--and then that would be huge. It would be famous because it was forced on you all the time.

I think now that music is typically free kids can make their own decisions. Everyone's calling it a crisis, but I don't.

Spoken like a true rocker. Anway, one comment on YouTube said, "This song is so sexy." Couldn't agree more...

U R A Fever - The Kills

Monday, April 28, 2008

RIP Blogging?

Consistent posting is tough, and blogs may come and go, but the medium of blogging is here to stay.

I’ve heard that the key to building up an audience for your blog is posting regularly. After all, faithful readers expect something fresh for their eyes to feast on when they point and click to your page. A few consecutive visits revealing the same “Merry Christmas Everyone!” post, and people will simply stop coming, favouring blogs that have managed to at least break into the new year.

But diligent posting is hard! There’s the issue of time. Unless you’re unemployed or (through some perversion of luck) you blog for a living, finding time to craft a fresh post between work, school, meals, homework, walking the dog, playing with the kids, etc. etc. isn’t always easy. Then, there’s the issue of issues. Sometimes your mind is bursting with ideas, opinions, rants and observations. (For me, it was the eruption of the Tibet turmoil a few weeks ago.) Other times though, your mind is an empty vessel, containing nothing remotely of interest. And what do you do then?

With this in mind, I read an obituary of sorts for blogging. It’s called “THE DEATH OF PERSONAL BLOGS” by Emily Gould and although provocative in its title, it’s really a personal reflection on how Gould’s blog and some of her favourites have lived and died since their inception in the late nineties or early 2000’s (can I say ‘turn of the century’?):
Checking in on the sites I used to frequent five years ago during the golden age of the blog reveals an online graveyard. Many of my old virtual friends’ last few posts follow the same sad pattern — the initial spate of “sorry I haven’t posted in so long”s followed by the inevitable “it’s over, but check out what I’m doing at [corporate blog]!”

What she’s really getting at is the serious tenacity required to maintain a blog for longer than a few months. Not so much that blogging is dying out, but that the medium has a very high attrition rate. Yet that’s what I think is key to why blogging will endure: there's always more.

Humans are social creatures and love to communicate. The flowering of communication means is testament to that: letters, telegrams, phones, faxes, televisions, email, instant messaging, text messaging… We can’t get enough of it. And rather than ditching an old medium for a new one, the old ones remain in our communication tool belt for use in different contexts.

Blogs are unique in that in they’re not only a way to share information, but they have this amazing democratizing effect on information. Suddenly, knowledge and info isn’t dictated through newspapers, TV and your small circle of word-of-mouth, but becomes a vast network with no boundaries and fitting every niche imaginable.

It’s a beautiful thing. And even if this blog doesn’t survive it’s first year, another will take it’s place. And when that fails, others will take the torch, because people will never run out of things to say and will always find a hungry audience ready to listen.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I am currently busy with life, but promise (cross my heart, yada, yada...) to return on Monday, April 28, 2008.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Clay To Keep the Doctor Away

A small meteor crashes down in a farmer's field. A group of people go to retrieve the space rock, but find a high tech box inscribed with heiroglyphics in its place. They open the box and discover several samples of pasty substance, each with a different hue--light green, beige, blue, etc.--but all with the consistency of peanut butter.

Scientists take this alien gift and carefully examine it under a microscope. They are deeply impressed by what they see. "Highly sophisticated bio-engineering," they declare.

The micro-structure contains three layers, the first having a crystalline structure like salt or diamond. Clinging to this like a magnet is a mesh of minerals, including potassium. And to top it off, a sprinkle of organic molecules, each sample containing combinations as unique as snowflakes in terms of type and arrangement of these molecules. "Only a super-intelligent race could have created this," announce the stunned scientists.

But what does it do?

After running a 1000 different tests on it, they discover it kills bacteria. Not just any bacteria but the super-bugs like MRSA, the one stalking hospitals, schools and other public places, causing ugly pus-leaking sores, and resistent of most antibiotics doctors throw at it.

The people of the Earth rejoice. Yet, questions remain. The scientists can see what it looks like, but can't quite figure out how the substance is doing the bacteria-fighting. And they can only guess how the brilliant alien race managed to sythesize such a complex compound.

Well, the substance I've just described is actually simple old clay, not a high-tech concoction derived from ET. It's been used since Roman times for treating nausea and cuts and after years of getting the cold shoulder from modern medicine (because of "lack of research") it is now getting the respect it deserves.

Indeed, it's shown encouraging results against highly drug-resistant strains like MRSA and a flesh eating bacteria called "Buruli ulcer" that has ravaged parts of Africa. But just as descibed in my little story, scientists don't know what the clay is actually doing. Some of those unique organic molecules could be poisonous to the bacteria. Maybe it has somrthing to do with it's acidity...

No one knows.

But the real question is will the medical community in Canada and the US will embrace the novel idea of using simple clay to treat disease? Or will they hide behind medical orthodoxy and dismiss clay as just a fringe therapy, not worthy of serious attention?

Picture: a micrograph of clay, from this site.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Post Post Modern Music: Basement Jaxx

Basement Jaxx have always rocked out the beat of their own drum, but the video for Take Me Back to Your House is truly unique--equal parts silliness and grand spectacle. It's a tongue-in-cheek celebration of Communist Russia, complete with folk costumes, dancing bears and a Stalin look-alike.

But why do I waste words, when the video can speak for itself?

Koodos to everyone involved in making this glorious pageant, fit for a ki-- I mean... fearless revolutionary leader.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Red, White and Blue in Kansas

Last Sunday morning, I heard an excellent radio program called "The Sunday Edition" on CBC Radio. Host Michael Enright left the snowy liberal bastion of Toronto for the proud Red state of Kansas to produce a report called, Heartland: the Mood of Middle America.

Being it's only real neighbour, Canadians are always very interested in America, it's history, culture and this year more than ever, it's politics. This report tries to get into the mind of "middle America," the America that is fundamentalist Christian, pro-war and anti-gay, and the one that wholeheartedly endorsed George W. Bush (twice). It's the America that is worlds apart from the the liberal Yankee/Hollywood sensibility that Canadians (and much of the world) are familiar with through pop culture and mainstream media.

Whenever we do think about red-state America, images of rusty pick-up trucks, goofy accents, and Bible-thumping come to mind. So what struck me about the show was how UN-stereotypical Enright's guests were. Emanuel Cleaver, a black congressman and preacher representing Kansas City, had some insightful and provocative things to say on topics ranging from Barrack Obama to the government and politics in general.

On Obama's slogan of "Change":

First of all we have to define change, and it has more than saying we're going to "change". Answer the question about how we're going to change. Change has become kind of the word we throw out there because someone's done polling and said that it works. And the American public unfortunately and tragically, falls for it! You just say change and people start cheering.

On the American system of primaries:

This is unbelievably stupid! We allow two of our smallest states to determine who becomes the president. ...It doesn't make sense. There's very little diversity in either Iowa or New Hampshire. There is no way that you can really separate the rural from the urban. It's all just one little block of voters.

But perhaps the most challenging statements he made were on race-relations in America if and when Obama becomes the first black president. He thinks that for many white Americans, voting for Obama will be their way of affirming that the US is not racist. But he worries that once that happens, the general public will just move on and lose focus from dealing with the ongoing struggle with discrimination:
I think for many white Americans they are looking at Barrack Obama and saying this is our chance to demonstrate that we have been able to get this boogieman called race behind us. And so they're going to vote for him. Whether he has credentials or whether he has any experience, I think that's all out the window. It's this country's opportunity to say, we've solved the problem, it's all over. And frankly that is causing many African Americans to tremble.

After November [with a Obama administration], any redress on racial issues will be met with rejection because we've already demonstrated that we're not a racist nation.

Another excellent interview had Enright talking to Kansas governor Kathlene Sebelius, a strong and level-headed Democrat, seemingly contradicting the idea of Kansas as the reddest of Red states. Asked how she got elected in such a conservative state, she replied:

I got more votes than my opponent... Kansans have been really willing to cross party lines based on what they see as leadership capacity and what kind of job you've done. Kansans are pretty pragmatic. They look at what you say you're going to do and whether or not you actually do deliver.

So maybe Kansans aren't just a bunch of hardline Bush-lovers. Here's what she had to say about the moderate Republicans and Independents that voted her into office:

Independents in Kansas are really independents. They're not filed as independents and masquerading as one party or the other. They really are folks who are not so closely identified with either party and they really are looking for the right person for the right job so theres a large block of voters, 30-35% depending on the election year who are registered as independents, see themselves as independents and are available to the best candidate.
And what do these sensible, middle-American folks think of the current state of American government?

A lot of them are just baffled with the direction of this new Republican party, which is opposed to anything involving government, opposed to a safety-net for poor or vulnerable citizens, opposed to public education, who see government immunization of children as an intrusion, don't want standards in daycare centres--a whole series of issues that are really so fundamentally different from the framework moderate republicans have about government, about the safety net, about the importance of public education...

They feel it's important to declare themselves no longer members of that party. They don't want any mistake, that they do not belong to a Republican party [that] is so anti-government that they're willing to essentially dismantle basic institutions that have always been the halmark of this country.

Granted, she is a Democrat, and her views probably don't represent every single person in the State. Plus, I haven't mentioned the other interview in the program, which was with a local right-wing commentator who a had more characteristic conservative views. Yet, even his opinions added depth to my shallow perception of the conservative media.

Overall, I found the program utterly enlightening about an America that we outside the US (and I suspect many inside, too) totally underestimate in terms of its diversity and complexity. Really, there is not one America, but many Americas, all coalesced within the country's borders.

The picture above is called Achelous and Hercules, by Thomas Hart Benton, 1947, and is featured on Emanuel Cleaver's website.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Earth Hour: Yes We Can

Lights went out around the world this past Saturday, as communities big and small participated in Earth Hour, a symbolic movement started in Sydney, Australia to lower energy consumption by turning off lights and appliances for one hour.

At exactly 8:01PM, I not only shut off lights and appliances, but--with flashlight in hand--I marched down to the fuse box and shut off the power to the whole house: fridge, furnace and all.

For that one hour my family and I sat around the kitchen table, our faces bathed in warm candlelight, snacking, chatting, playing with the candle wax. We enjoyed our little refuge from self-imposed darkness and enjoyed the novelty of our energy fast. It was quite beautiful and almost spiritual in it's simplicity and solidarity, knowing that millions around the world were doing the same. In fact, WWF Australia says 50 million people in 40 countries participated.

Certainly, it's not going to stop climate change, nor will it prevent people from leaving their lights on thoughtlessly after that one dark hour had passed. But it was an important symbol. I've heard people call it "a prayer," transmiting hope for a better world through a small but united, committed act of sacrifice. It was "largely symbolic" said one energy conservation expert, but added, "symbolism is sometimes important."

It's true that not everyone participated. Bangkok, for example, didn't meet expectations after a successful 15 min 'lights out' campaign last year. Even Sydney, the pioneer of Earth Hour, failed to match last year's numbers. On the flip side, Toronto meet its target with a 9% reduction in use (just one point behind Sydney's result last year) and my own little suburb achieved just under 7%--second best in the city as a whole.

Overall, being the first year that the the idea went worldwide, I say Earth Hour was a success. It was an announcement to our politicians, corporations and to ourselves, that yes, we are willing to give up some convenience and we are willing to work together to make a change for the better. We're paying attention, we care, and we want action.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Noble Architecture

Dr. Evil's twin brother Jean Nouvel (click here to see what I mean) has won the Pritzker prize – known as the "Nobel of architecture." I have to admit I had not heard of Nouvel, who has won many prestigious awards and is considered to stand shoulder to shoulder with such modern greats as Frank Gehry and Sir Norman Foster. Judging by the dazzling, ambitious examples of his works below, I'd say he deserved it.

(Although, as Slate points out, architecture is a huge team effort involving other architects, structural engineers, builders and the patrons. They too deserve credit.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Post-Post-Modern Wisdom

Which do you value more--

your wealth or your wellness?
Which is more harmful--
To lead or to lose?

The greater is your attachment
the more bereft is your loss
The more you hoard,
the less is left to enjoy.

Those on the path
to the Tao
flow without forcing,
leaving no space for disasters.

-Lao Tzu
Tao Te Ching

Monday, March 24, 2008

Post-Post-Modern Music: Justice

One of my favourite albums is Daft Punk's Discovery. Even more than Homework (which includes the masterpieces "Around the World" and "Da Funk") it encapsulates the band's unmistakable soul-pounding dynamism. From start to finish, this epic--yes, epic!--album evokes futuristic soundscapes, carries hints of 80's rock nostalgia and maintains always an undercurrent of a distinctly French creativity.

Since Discovery though, their music just hasn't hit the same notes for me. The subsequent album, Human After All was, in my opinion, a dud. But another group, called Justice--also from France--has burst onto the scene and grabbed the torch from Daft Punk's failing hands. Many people's first introduction to Justice was "We Are Your Friends." I first heard it in a Virgin Mobile commercial last year. Another excellent tune is "D.A.N.C.E."

On a side note, "We Are Your Friends" won 'Best Video' at the Europe Music Awards. As a representative of the band went to pick up the trophy an irate Kanye West crashed the stage and verbally assaulted everyone in sight because his own video, "Touch the Sky" didn't win. Some of his colourful rantings included:

Fuck dis! [My video] cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it; I was jumping across canyons and shit! ...If I don't win, the awards show loses credibility... Nothing against you, but hell man!

Anyway, Justice has come out with a new single "DVNO", coupled with an dazzling video that pays tribute to the art of logos and graphic design.

Check it out...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

I'm certainly not religious, but I do have Catholic roots. For my family, Easter is a big to-do. It's all about sharing good food, good booze, good stories around the dinner table, and just good times.

So, no matter where you are or what you believe, I wish you good times, and a happy Easter!

Friday, March 21, 2008

On Nationhood

To which of the following statements do you adhere?


b) Tibet is a part of China, was a part of China, and always will be a part of China.

1 Nation = 1 State

If you answered a, your reasoning might be,
Any nationality trapped inside a larger nation-state should become a free nation. It's only natural that every nation have it's own state. After all, if the French have France, the Japanese have Japan, then why not let the Tibetans have Tibet?
It may indeed be natural for nations to have states, but is it un-natural for multiple nations to share one state? Look at Switzerland, comprised of 4 groups: French, German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansh. Look at Belgium, shared by French- and Dutch-speakers. Or, look at Canada, made up of English and French speaking provinces. There's also Spain, the UK, Malaysia, India...

All of these are examples of two or more nations successfully mingled in the bosom of a single state with wealth, stability and freedom. So there's nothing unusual about a country having more than one official language, culture, and ethnicity.

However, notice that all the countries just listed are democracies. The citizens of those countries are there by choice, not held by an iron grip. Voters in Quebec, for example, have exercised their choice twice, and both times voted to remain a part of Canada.

Also, most muliti-nation states are federal, where different regions have some self-rule but still within a larger country.

China doesn't play by those rules. Tibetans do not have the freedom to choose their government whether it be independent or within a greater China.

1 China, Indivisible

Now, if you picked option b, you may be afraid that:

If Tibet separates, what's to stop a domino effect from tearing all of China apart completely? The country I know and love will be Balkanized into a patchwork of micro-states and the whole region will be thrown into chaos.

This idea has merit. China has several disparate regions, (bestowed with the progressive-sounding but constitutionally impotent title of "Autonomous Region") where there is not only a unique culture or religion, but downright hostility toward the ruling Han majority. Tibet is one example, but the western Uighur province in another. And here is what one learned world affairs analyst, Robert D. Kaplan, wrote about it in The Coming Anarchy:

Having traveled through much of western China, where Muslim Turkic Uighurs (who despise the [Han] Chinese) often predominate, I find it hard to imagine a truly democratic China without at least a partial break-up of the country. Such a break-up would lead to chaos in western China, because the Uighurs are poorer and less educated than most Chinese and have a terrible historical record of governing themselves.
Kaplan goes further, wondering if the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in '89 had led to democracy, could China manage the same astounding levels of economic growth that it does:
I am not certain, because democracy in China would have ignited turmoil not just in the Muslim west of the country but elsewhere too; order would have decreased but corruption would not have.
The Dalai Lama himself basically agreed with Kaplan's assessment when he said in an interview with Time:
Tibet is a landlocked country, a large area, small population, very, very backward. We Tibetans want modernization. Therefore, in order to develop Tibet materially as a modern nation, Tibet must remain within the People's Republic of China.
1 Country, 2 Systems

Notice that Kaplan's statements above deal with democracy, not self rule. It's one thing to say that China is not ready for federal democracy, or that its provinces shouldn't become independent republics. It's another thing to say Tibet can't have some form of autonomy within China. This already exists in Hong Kong where China holds power over defense and foreign affairs while legal, economic and immigration policies are under local control. The same idea exists in Macau, and if China had it's way it would exist for Taiwan too.

For Tibet, the Dalai Lama favours this policy of "one country, two systems" over full independence, to the chagrin of Tibet's government-in-exile. In the interview with Time he declared that Tibet should accept a partnership with China if it improves the standard of living of Tibetan people:
...In order to develop Tibet materially as a modern nation, Tibet must remain within the People's Republic of China. Provided Chinese give us a full guarantee of preservation of Tibetan culture, Tibetan environment, Tibetan spirituality, then it is of mutual benefit.
In other words, if China was to create a parallel system for Tibet within China, not unlike that of Hong Kong and Macau, it would be a workable, peaceful solution to allow Tibetans to exercise their religion and unique way of life--including control over immigration--in a way that keeps the greater China politically stable and economically prosperous.

The photo above is a collection of stamps celebrating China's ethnic diversity.

News From Tibet
Throwing Stones

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Winter is Dead?

Officially, winter 07-08 was declared dead on March 20, at 12:48 AM (GMT). Yet, thanks to La NiƱa, the weather remains unseasonably chilly in my humble berg (and in many parts of the northern hemisphere).

How cold?
So far 2008, for the globe, has been quite cold, only just above the 1961-90 average,
said Phil Jones, University of East Anglia; quoted in this report.

Does this mean global warming is a big lie? No. Because despite the rude start, 2008 is expected to be one of warmest on record (if not the warmest, as the Old Farmers Almanac has predicted), and consistent with the forecast rise of the Earth's temperatures.


Anyway, the following pics I snapped around my house. I actually took more but they came out blurry thanks to my shivering in the frigid eve.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Must... try to... concentrate!

Is it just me, or is this whole Tibet affair making it hard to focus on other things?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Post-Post-Modern Music: MGMT

MGMT is a group out of Brooklyn that's started to make waves with their album "Oracular Spectacular" (great title, that.)

Rolling Stone named them an 'artist to watch' in 2008 and the album has debuted at no. 12 on the UK album chart.

But who cares how popular they are. The music just sounds cool! And in light of the oppressive monotony (and mediocrity) of modern pop music it's like a revitalizing tonic for the ears.

Incidentally, for those who have never tried acid, this video for "Electric Feel" gives a surprisingly accurate demonstration.

News from Tibet

On Monday, Kadfly carried a post entitled, "Situation Resolved?" It described the stillness that had set over the Tibetan capital.

However, sources inside Tibet are saying that because the Chinese government doesn't want any further embarrassing protests or violent confrontations, they have been quietly arresting potential rioters, i.e. young men. If no men are in the house when authorities arrive they take women, as a sort of collateral. All this in an effort to pre-empt any further large-scale public demonstration. As many as 4000 people have been arrested.

Also, there is a growing sense of momentum amongst Tibetans. Precisely because China is determined to avoid embarrassment on the eve of the Olympics, there is a feeling that the ball is in the Tibetans' court and there's talk of more, wider-scale action in the weeks and months ahead.

As for our illustrious Kadfly, he is safe and in good spirits. He is enjoying copious alcoholic beverages and games of chess with fellow tourists holed up in his hotel in Llasa. With only sporadic internet access, he's been largely unaware of the hoopla going on online. He tells me that while he did manage to put up a brief post, he has not yet been able to check out the comments. He's delighted by the positive response and will write again when he gets a chance.


(The banner reads: Strengthen public safety management, safeguard political stability. -NYT)

Throwing Stones
On Nationhood

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Throwing Stones

It's incredible how sometimes life throws you a curve ball. How one day you could be just another tourist, snapping pictures in a museum, and the next day you're a foreign correspondent, broadcasting precious facts about a distant land in turmoil to people around the world.

That's what's happened to my best friend, "Ken". He started up a blog a few months ago, as a one-stop-shop for friends and family to keep up with his trip to the Orient. He was meandering his way west from Hong Kong to Xi'an--where the famed Terracotta Warriors reside--and would eventually make his way to Tibet.

That's how I saw it in my head, anyway, when I heard a news bulletin announce that there had been an explosion of violence on the streets of Llasa. "Hey," I thought. "Isn't that where Ken is going soon? Maybe he'll be forced to change his plans... stay in Xi'an a bit longer..."

The next day a mutual friend called to ask if I had heard about Ken.

"Heard what?"

Well, the rest of the story is on full display at Kadfly. It turned out he wasn't heading for Tibet, he was already there, caught in the middle of the turmoil. His pictures (up until that point a placid mix of local cuisine, landmarks and blue skies) depicted blazing bicycles, angry rioters brandishing machetes and police in riot gear cowering under a barrage of stones. Days earlier he had posted a shot of a pile of rocks behind a glass case illustrating a watch tower's simple defensive technique: dropping stones on intruders below.

Now Tibetans were hurling stones against 'intruders' of a different sort. Oh, the irony.

Awareness of Ken's blog quickly spread around the internet. Comments started trickling in, thanking him for bravely shedding light on a dark corner of the world. News organizations also took notice. Just after Ken arrived, access to foreigners into Tibet was shut off by Chinese authorities. The only real journalist in the city was James Miles of The Economist so demand was extremely high for any words or images that might clarify the situation on the ground.

The next morning , Ken's photo of the riot police under seige landed on the front page of the New York Times. His blog was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor. Meanwhile the 'comments' page was buzzing with more thank yous and spilling out into a general discussion and debate about Tibet (so far, as I write this, 143 comments).

However, Ken is unable to see the hubbub that his humble blog is causing because internet connections have been severed in the area, while a video of Ken's that someone has posted on YouTube is now being blocked in China.

As you can imagine, his friends and family are a tad bit concerned about Ken and we're still waiting to hear back from him today. Obviously, getting out of harms way is priority no. 1--especially as China's deadline for protesters to turn themselves in by today [CORRECTION: not all protesters, just the violent ones; see 'Comments'] has now expired and more violence is a real possibility. Add to this the fact that authorities have been determined to block, censor and withhold any information that doesn't paint China as a socialist utopia and you see how we'd prefer to have Ken 'reporting' from less volatile regions.

However, his posts have been fair and balanced (and I don't mean that in the Fox News sense). While he acknowledges that "the Chinese government bears a huge amount of blame for this situation" he also makes it clear that the protesters were not exactly a model for peaceful civil disobedience--as the video clip makes abundantly clear. So no one can say Ken is spreading anti-government propaganda. Indeed some of the debate going on on the 'comments' page include people supporting the governments actions while at the same time thanking Ken for his posts.

Anyway, until he can do so himself, I will graciously acknowledge on his behalf, the massive outpouring of interest and gratitude toward his work. He'll be mightily impressed by the attention, and who knows, maybe he'll actually make a buck or two from the ads at the bottom of the page.

News From Tibet
On Nationhood

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Faster, Higher, Stronger (and Without Leakage)!

Pop Quiz:

You've just been jogging for an hour and your muscles are aching. What causes the ache?

“Build-up of lactic acid in the muscles?”


In fact, this theory was discredited over 10 years ago. People continue, however, to repeat it like it was common knowledge. Was it the absence of a good explanation in place of the 100 year old lactic acid theory that’s caused the confusion? There was such a void that apparently, physiology textbooks have been ignoring muscle fatigue altogether, as if it just didn't exist.

Well, now it seems we have an answer. New research has uncovered what exactly goes on beneath the skin when muscle fatigue sets in. The short answer is leakage. Normal muscle function involves the controlled release of calcium.

After a period of vigorous exercise, calcium channels begin to leak like broken pipes. Because the muscles need a precise amount of calcium ebbing-and-flowing, this decreases their ability to work properly.
If that wasn’t enough, the leaking calcium also stimulates a “protein-digesting enzyme” that actually eats away at the muscle fibres.

Thus, the ache-age...

What's truly fascinating about this is how researchers uncovered it, and what they're doing with their new found knowledge. You might think Dr. Andrew Marks and his team at Columbia University were working in some sport medicine lab, funded by the Major League Baseball or something...

Well, not at all. Instead, they were studying heart failure, and their previous research showed that calcium was involved when heart patients experienced fatigue. Then Marks, in a bit of investigative wimsy that would make the eyes of Sherlock Holmes twinkle with admiration, reckoned that what happens in the heart--a muscle afterall--is probably the same thing that happens in leg muscles, arm muscles and so on.

So they put together a drug that acts as a plug for the calcium, gave it to a group of mice (which all signed wavers, I'm sure) and presto, performance was enhanced:

Without the drugs, mice are exhausted after three weeks of daily 3-hour swims. With the drug, the mice were still energetic, had lost less exercise capacity after 3 weeks, and their muscles showed fewer signs of calcium leakage, atrophy, and less muscle damage.

-Science Daily

As yet, the drug is not available for human consumption--or even testing for that matter. But, the Columbia team intend to patent their concoction. You can imagine the potential for performance enhancement in both professional and amateur sport, as well as the headache (leakage?) for anti-doping agencies desperately trying to keep up.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What does 'post-post modern' mean?

Good question. To me, 'post-post modern' says a lot things. For one thing, it mocks our society's insatiable appetite for labels. We seem to need a label for everything:

  • modern/classical,

  • pop/ alt.

  • cool/ nerdy

  • gay/ straight

  • pro/ con

  • conservative/liberal

  • Christian/Muslim

  • Coke/Pepsi

  • etc.

Then we even update our labels when they start to no longer fit:

  • neo-conservative

  • post-modern

  • metro-sexual

  • etc.

We just can't seem to let things be—just be—whatever and whoever they are. Whether we intend this to happen or not, it ends up creating barriers. If you're one thing then you can't be the opposite. If something is black, then it is not blue or red or white.

If I call you a liberal, then you can't be a conservative too.

Is that really true, though? Is it right, or accurate to throw labels around. For some things it's harmless. I mean, if I start calling my dog “Kitty-Kat” it won't hurt his feelings too much, I don't think. And, I suppose to some extent we can't help it. How can we talk about things, if we can't identify them.

“Can you pass me that...”


“You know, that, over there?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, for crying out loud! That THING over there.”

“How dare you call it a 'thing'! It's so much more to me than just a 'thing'!”

However, some people have made a great effort to avoid labels in one extremely sensitive area: religion. I'm talking about Taoism (and to some extent its cousin Zen Buddhism). A fundamental principle of Taoism, is that the Tao—despite being given that name—cannot be named, measured or defined. It has no size, dimensions or quantity. It is nothing and it is everything at once. Even the exact translation of "Tao" is up for debate. “The Way” is one option. “The Great Integrity” is another. The general purpose of Taoism is to reach a higher level of functioning—or you might say, to get closer to God—without ever placing restrictive labels on that which you seek. It's similar to how in Islam it is forbidden to attempt to depict God or the prophet Mohammed through pictures or any other art. You just couldn't do God justice, so don't try.

So to me, 'post-post-modern' is a witty subversion on the very notion of labels. It makes fun of people who think they have an answer and a criticism for everything. And also, it's hints to something deeper. It is so 'post-' that it can't be named at all.

“Let's see, if it's not modern it must be like, weird abstract art. Like that sculpture that looks like a giant booger.”

“No, that would be post-modern. This is post-post-modern.”

“So does that mean it's even weirder than abstract art?”

“No, it means it's back to modern. You know, like a double negative.”

“So why not just call it modern?”

“You're right. Maybe it is like booger art.”

“But isn't that called 'modern art'?"


[Brains explode.]

So, to some extent labels are a fundamental component of cognition, one we couldn't avoid even if we tried, as it would make language and communication impossible. But we all could try, at least once in a while, to take a step back and just experience what you see, hear and feel--be it a mountain view, or the rebuttal of your debate opponent--just AS IT IS; without judgment, without labels, without restrictions; in splendid isolation and free of barriers and contradiction. Maybe then, we could start to see things as they really are...

But enough sermonizing. Here are few random pictures that came up from Google Images for 'post-post-modern':

(All images link to pages where they originated from.)

What is this all about?

Well, it's a blog. You know, a collection of narcissistic navel-gazing blasted out across the internet, just to add a little bit more pollution into our precious and endangered blogosphere.

No, actually this blog is intended to be a mix of ideas and opinions (and hopefully some debates!) ranging in topics: current events, philosophy, politics, art & photography, science, plus anything and everything else that sparks my interest. However I can tell you right now that major theme will be politics, science/health, and art.

I've never kept a blog before, and don't actually have a lot of free time, so whether or not it will be possible to post regularly is yet to be seen. (Bets, anyone?)

...But I will sure make an effort.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Oh, you're here...

Hi there. So, uh, thanks for coming...

I think the others should be here any minute....

Can I offer you a drink?

No? Okay.

Um.. I don't really have anything to eat... so uh, I can't really offer.....just some crackers...mustard......heh....