Friday, October 29, 2010

Scary, Scary, Scary (not because it's Halloween).

Greetings Friends,

Before I lived in Toronto, I was in Fairfax Virginia for less than a year. During that time, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, and many of us thought things would be taking a turn for the better. Now, I live in Toronto. If I were still residing in the Washington DC area, you can bet your boots I'd be attending Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's mock political rally tomorrow. After all, some of us have to stand up as Americans and prove the rest of the world wrong about the nutty Tea Party. Maybe Glenn Beck wants his America back, but despite the current mess, I think mine is much better.

But, Nava, you left. Yeah, I did. I have my reasons, but they really don't mean a hill of beans in the face of America reaching yet another frightening turning point with Tuesday's mid-term elections. And, Canada's political machine, such as it is, follows in the footsteps of the United States. This past Monday, the city of Toronto elected a new Conservative mayor who sounds scarily similar to an American Republican. Prime Minister Stephen Harper may think he's doing a "heck of a job", but in fact, he's ruling the greatest kingdom of obfuscation since Henry VIII's wives all started dying. North American politics has become more frightening than the all-time scariest movie (in my opinion), The Exorcist. Every time I see Prime Minister Harper on television, he has that look of depraved indifference that could mean his head is going to start spinning around, or he might be plotting the mysterious demise of some of his cabinet ministers.

In the US, John Boehner, and his perpetual day-glow orange tan, are on the campaign trail with a boner the size of a flag pole. I cannot even begin to imagine that man as Speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi turned out to be an unequivocal disaster, and I do believe Congressman Boehner has even less brain cells to rub together. On the other hand, some political pundits believe that a Republican House might benefit the US right now. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you; and it's not the Peace Bridge.

Canadians are worried about the impact this election will have on our economy. There was a story on CBC's The National this week about how heightened security measures have all but neutralized NAFTA, bringing cross-border commerce to a grinding halt. It has become so difficult to get Canadian goods into the US that some manufacturers cannot afford to keep trying. I'm not referring to BlackBerries and hockey pucks; I'm talking about goods that keep both countries humming along without any of us giving them a second thought: things like caster wheels and other machine parts that most of us wouldn't know what to do with unless we held advanced degrees in engineering. Those are the people who are suffering - big time.

Regardless of what happens this Tuesday, there will be a segment of North America that will not be happy with the results. This is the very first time in my life as a voter that I will be missing a significant election. My vote didn't help elect the guy I thought would have made a pretty good mayor of Toronto, and the absence of my vote will not stop the narrow-minded and ignorant from attempting to "take back America". I feel like I've had my arms and legs chopped off.

"Yes We Can" was the rallying cry America responded to a short 2 years ago. On Wednesday night, President Obama was made to eat those words on The Daily Show by saying, "Yes we can, but not in 18 months." The American people don't want to hear that. As a dual citizen, I'm not crazy about it, either. But, what choice did we have? I'm not saying Barack Obama won by default; historically, change does not happen overnight. The events that bring about change tend to happen in the blink of an eye, but dealing with the fallout can take years. We got ourselves into some pretty big messes, and it's not fair to think one man can just snap his fingers and right them. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. Americans and Canadians both.

If anyone reading this is near the DC area tomorrow, go to the rally for me. Do an expat American a favour. There's a free Blackberry in it for you...NOT!

Have a great weekend, and a safe Halloween.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What is Evil?

Greetings Friends,

For the past week, Canada has been preoccupied with Russell Williams. He's the Canadian Forces colonel who murdered two women, raped others, and broke into 80 homes near the Ontario Canadian Forces base at which he was in charge. He plead guilty to all the charges levelled at him, was stripped of his rank, pay and medals (but not his pension), and will spend the rest of his natural life behind bars. I'm not trying to make light of the situation by using a picture of Mike Myers as the "Dr. Evil" character from his Austin Powers films. Just looking at pictures of Russell Williams gives me the creeps, and I have no wish to denigrate my blog with his image.

Richard Handler, the Ideas Guy at CBC, wrote this column on CBC's web site yesterday, debating the use of the word "evil" to describe Williams. I agree with his opinion that evil is hard to quantify, and the comparison he made of Williams to Robert Louis Stevenson's famous literary characters, "the rational Dr. Jekyll, and the murderous Mr. Hyde". Truly, Russell Williams was leading the quintessential double life.

Handler goes on to make the typical theological comparisons between good and evil, but those always ring hollow to my ears. The most devout people often have sinister sides to them, as do those who are secular for the most part. Religion and morality have little to do with the capacity to do harm to other human beings, whether it involves murder, or other dastardly deeds. The person is ultimately responsible for their actions. The trigger, I believe, comes from within, and the wrath exhibited by the individual has nothing to do with the God of Abraham, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, whoever. It has to do with the misfiring of synapses that causes the person to commit abhorrent acts. Those acts can be murder, rape, robbery, or infliction of other types of physical and emotional distress. But do those actions really constitute true evil?

Handler, talented writer that he is, sought out the opinions of Terry Eagleton, a prominent British literary critic, and author of more than 40 books. His most recent, On Evil, offers an argument about the existence of evil, and what constitutes true evil. We've all used evil as an adjective to describe people, things, places, times...but when we call something evil, does that mean it is truly evil? Your guess is as good as mine.

God and literary criticism notwithstanding, nothing will ever stop us from referring to people and things as "evil". We may think it is an accurate descriptor, but more often than not, we will be off the mark by quite a bit. To understand the root causes of someone's torment is not something most of us have the time or the inclination to contemplate. In the case of Russell Williams, I'm sure the Canadian prison system will be analyzing his behaviour quite closely over the course of the rest of his life, to see if there is anything they can glean from his actions. Right now, he's shown no remorse for what he's done, but I'm sure that will change once the scientists get a hold of him. I only hope that by studying him, there will be some good that will come that might be of use, to help those who may not be at the same level of wickedness, but who might be warming up in the tormented bullpen.

I'm one of those people who wants to know the root causes of abhorrent behaviour. Depending on the scenario, I seek them out so I can learn from them. I'm no saint or angel by any means, but when someone's not right, their behaviour is a dead giveaway. Thankfully, I've never had exposure to someone like Russell Williams, but I do, unfortunately, have experience in the realm of having emotional distress inflicted on me by others. Are those people evil? I don't know.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Control is an Illusion

Greetings Friends,

In my Internet travels, I came across a blog by a former college student that talked about her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) issues. She wrote that a psychologist explained OCD to her in terms of being like a flashlight: "A small, strong beam of light, rather than a broad, warm light." I like this analogy because I think it sums up the issue quite well. In total darkness, a flashlight shines a concentrated beam of light onto whatever you're poinitng it at; as opposed to a lamp or an overhead light, which is capable of partial or complete illumination.

We all know people who look at life in "black and white", choosing to ignore the gray areas. As I writer, I live for the gray areas, because in them, you find the best material. The absolutes reside in the black and white, and there isn't much you can do to change them. When you strive for total control, you believe that everyone and everything must bend to your personal will.

There are times when you have "no control"; that's a given. But having "total control" does not exist. The person who thinks they have "total control" is in some serious denial. Of course, there are armies of co-dependents that allow the individual in question to believe he or she has total control, but God help the person who comes along and attempts to challenge that person's illusion of "total control". The scenario can either resemble slamming your head repeatedly into a brick wall, or provide some serious amusement. Either way, challenging a control freak is not a pleasurable leisure time activity; it can be downright infuriating.

The more people I meet, and the better I get to know myself, the more I start to feel like there are less and less people in the world worth knowing. I always like to say, I hate people, but love individuals. The older I get the truer I find that to be. It's like the Facebook friend conundrum: does the more Facebook "friends" a person has validate their existence? You've got 200+ people you call "friends" listed on Facebook, but how many of them do you really know? Give me a handful of genuine people I know I can count on and the other 190 of them can go "friend" someone else. Instead, we (including me) keep those "friends" because we want others to see how popular we are. In a sense, we are controlling our online facade to make it seem like we're so desirable, that all these people want to call themselves our "friends". The reality of the situation is, we don't have a clue who most of them are.

Facebook is one small element in the control universe. Most control freaks don't like the Internet because it represents something they cannot control. But, if you're a control freak looking for a facade, it doesn't get any better than the electronic void. Here, you can be anyone you'd like, as long as you understand how to manipulate the image others are viewing.

The pervasiveness of technology shows us how much is actually not in our control. From a web content perspective, we're all trying to figure out Google's next step; We think we know what it might be, then Google pulls the rug out from under us and we're left groping for the proverbial flashlight. It's frustrating, and we learn to adapt; those who think they will one day conquer Google have a firm grasp on the flashlight, but a very shaky grip on reality. The rest of us just deal with it and move on.

Moving on is a very important part of life. Nothing lasts forever, including control. There comes a time when, even if you don't want to face it, you have to give up what you think you have control over and deal with reality. One person cannot rule the world. They may think they can, but the sooner they realize control is an illusion, they'll move on to something else. You just have to hope that something else is outside your personal realm, and you never have to deal with that individual again. Me? I've decided to ditch my flashlight and gather up some candles. I prefer a broad, warm light anyway.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Mud's Thicker than the Blood

Greetings Friends,

Gone are the days when families looked like the image above. Ozzie and Harriet, the Cleavers, the Cunninghams, the Waltons, even the Evans family from one of my favourite groundbreaking 70s shows, Good Times, barely resemble what's become the norm in today's society. Mom, dad and the 2 kids have been replaced by two mommies, two daddies, divorced single parents, grandparents raising their grandchildren, etc. There is still every reason to believe that the children of these "non-traditional" families will emerge just as "well-adjusted" (even more so in some cases) than the offspring of a "traditional" family unit. Parents are parents, no matter which colour, gender or generational group they belong to. Good parenting is a gift, and bad parenting is, unfortunately, all too common. All the parenting in the world, good or bad, is never enough preparation for the realization that family can sometimes prove to be the catalyst for sorrow, rather than joy.

I am a firm advocate of teaching your children to be independent; learning the lesson of self-reliance as early as possible will encourage children not to think the world owes them something. Instant gratification and having everything you want can lead to major difficulty in adulthood. Knowing one's limitations and accepting them can be a tough pill to swallow, but self-sufficiency is the key to being able to withstand the stormy times that will certainly rumble through every life. Weathering the bad with the good can shape a person in ways that will endure well into old age. If you can get there without bitterness and remorse, then you're way ahead of the game.

I took the liberty of inverting a lyric from a popular 70s song for the title of my post. The song "Family Affair" by Sly and the Family Stone says, "Blood's thicker than the mud". I did this because I've learned that blind trust in family isn't always the smartest course of action in life. I don't believe there is any such thing as "unconditional" love between humans, but I do believe in the milk of human kindness, and that altruism is capable of existing in some people. The problem is, you'd better be damn sure that milk isn't past its freshness date, or that that altruism you detect isn't a disguise for something else. It's not always easy to spot a fraud, but God help you if you discover one too late. The fallout is never pretty.

There are mine fields in the most traditional of families. There are booby-traps lying in wait everywhere you turn. Avoiding them all is impossible, but learning from your mistakes is always the best way to proceed. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. I'm generally not the most optimistic of individuals, but I'm not the most pessimistic either. Whether it's mud or blood, you're still going to need a pretty sturdy spoon to stir them both. The key is to stir, not shake. What will shake out in the end will show you there is no difference between blood and mud. The key is to determine the quality of both and go from there.

Have a great weekend.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tomato Soup Jihad

Greetings Friends,

Just when you thought you've heard it all...

My friends at The Perpetual Post were talking about the US boycott of Campbell's Halal soups last week, and I got a pretty good chuckle out of it. When I read about it this morning on Yahoo News, I had to choke down my coffee.

The nut of this story has to do with Cambell's Halal certified soups, maufactured and sold exclusively here in Canada. Some American Islamophobes got wind of the Halal certification, and decided to declare that the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), supports terrorism, and that Halal certification of an American culinary institution is a declaration of war. That's like saying Kosher chickens are unpatriotic.

Speaking of Kosher, Halal dietary restrictions are very similar. And to think, for generations, no one in the US has made a big deal out of foods being certified Kosher, but all of a sudden, Halal has become a dirty word.

Unfortunately, this is just another case of ignorance run amok. The boycott is the brainchild of Pamela Geller, the scribe behind the anti-Islamic web site, Atlas Shrugs (I am not even going to dignify the site by providing a link). Somewhere in the hereafter, author Ayn Rand is cringing.

In Fox News-esque style, the one pertinent bit of information that is absent in the ignorant blogosphere is that the soups are manufactured and sold only in Canada. Go to into a Shop Rite, Wal Mart, or Winn Dixie anywhere in the US, and there will not be a can of Campbell's Halal soups to be had. So why do all these people have their knickers in a bunch? Because the First Amendment allows them to. They are perfectly entitled to their opinions, but when you combine opinion with ignorance, the result almost always turns into hate mongering. Directing that hatred towards Muslims only fuels the fire because the majority of Americans believe that they are all terrorists. Plus, the added spectre of the "Ground Zero Mosque" allows everyone to up the ignorance quotient even higher.

I am a proud American and a proud Canadian. I would battle to the death to keep my right to free speech, and I believe in utilizing my right in a benevolent manner. Calling for the boycott of a popular food product because of a religious dietary certification is not only a waste of time, it's a waste of good bandwidth. Clearly, Pamela Geller and the rest of her ilk need to find themselves a hobby; needlepoint and quilting keep the hands quite busy. Or, as a 52 year-old mother of 4, Geller should be questioned as to whether she's raising a houseful of hatemongers who also believe in the dehumanization of Muslims. I guess there'll be no more grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell's tomato soup served in her house. Shameful. What's next: a boycott of Kraft Dinner?

Extremism exists in every religion. Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, you name it; we've all got our share of wack jobs to contend with. Food is meant to sustain and nourish us. Plenty of people don't have enough money to feed their families, let alone care about dietary certifications. In a society where you can consume mass quantities of genetically modified and chemical laden foods that will most likely kill you faster than a speeding subway train, choosing to boycott Campbell's Halal soups - when they're not even available in the country that's boycotting them - is monumentally stupid. I'd love to tell this woman to get a life, but the sad fact is, she already has one. I know; ouch. I just took my First Amendment rights out for a nice stroll...

RIP Mrs. Cleaver and Mr. C.: This week, we lost two of TV's most beloved parents: Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver on Leave it To Beaver, and Tom Bosley, the actor who played Howard Cunningham on Happy Days, both passed away. I was never a huge fan of Wally and the Beav, but who didn't want to come home to a mom like Mrs. Cleaver? Happy Days was a staple of my TV viewing as a kid, and as fathers go, Mr. C. was pretty "cool".


Monday, October 18, 2010

Maxime Bernier

Greetings Friends,

With the US midterm elections fast approaching, I thought I'd focus on a goofball Canadian politician to assuage my fury about the Democratic Party flushing the first 2 years of Barack Obama's presidency down the toilet. Actually, he's not innocent in all this, but Congress hasn't done him any favours. I'm doing my level best to ignore the Tea Party/witchcraft element of this upcoming election, and hoping against hope that the Republicans don't make the inroads everyone seems to think they will. 2 years isn't nearly enough time to fix the mess George W. Bush left behind; politics is one area where we cannot expect instant gratification.

Maxime Bernier is a Conservative Canadian MP (Member of Parliament) from Beauce Quebec. He was elected in 2006 by a landslide victory, and has since become one of the most notorious MPs in the current Parliament. Why? He's good-looking, brash, and has a tendency to stick his foot in his mouth with the same alarming regularity as Vice President Joe Biden. He's certainly good for some interesting sound bites on occasion, and his political back story has been nothing short of hilarious, at least from my American perspective. Unfortunately, there isn't anything involving same-sex airport bathroom trysts, or explicit text messaging of male congressional pages, but you have to admit, some of this is pretty amusing:

After being appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in August 2007, he caused a major diplomatic scandal during an April 2008 visit to Afghanistan when he called for the resignation of the governor of Kandahar. This dust up may have lead to the escape of about one thousand prisoners believed to be affiliated with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The perception that the Canadian government was influencing the Afghan government regarding political appointments (sound familiar?) lead to an escalation of the civil war and the threat to target Canadian soldiers in the area. The governor was removed from office anyway, but big mouth Bernier's call for his resignation made things that much more unpleasant for NATO troops.

Shortly after the Afghan gaffe, it was discovered that Bernier's girlfriend had past romantic ties to high-ranking members of the Quebec chapter of the Hell's Angels. After their breakup, Bernier admitted to leaving sensitive briefing notes to an upcoming NATO meeting at her residence. The Foreign Affairs department was unaware these documents had gone missing for five weeks. Of course, Bernier's girlfriend returned the papers to Foreign Affairs, went to the media, and well, you can figure out the rest. Bernier resigned from his post as Foreign Affairs Minister on May 26, 2008, but retained his parliamentary seat and has since been re-elected.

Presently, Maxime Bernier continues to stir the pot in Parliament. Now considered a "backbencher", he still manages to stay in the public eye, "going rogue" with contrarian speeches, and not so delicately inferring that he might be interested in the big chair. Given the political climate here in Canada, I wouldn't be surprised if he challenged current Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the leadership of the Conservative party. When you compare Bernier's antics to those of American politicians, the level of scandal doesn't register. But, here in the Great White North, he's considered a pretty noteworthy shit disturber. I happen to find all this hilarious.

The beauty of being a citizen of two countries is that it gives me the opportunity to bash two governments. I will not be voting in the upcoming US mid term elections, because I am no longer a resident of a particular state. But, I will be voting in the municipal elections here in Toronto next week. After all, voting not only exercises your right as a citizen in a democratic society, it gives you the right to bitch about those who represent you. And that's what it's all about.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Trapped, or Held Hostage?

Greetings Friends,

I was cheering along with the rest of the world on Wednesday as those 33 Chilean miners were lifted to safety after being trapped underground for 69 days. I applauded the efforts of the international team of rescue workers and drilling experts who devised the mission and brought a happy ending to an all too familiar scenario that often ends tragically. Mining is a dangerous career, and an activity that leaves environmental devastation in its wake. The mining industry has a dubious reputation in that it often takes the safety of its workers for granted in the interest of lining its own pockets. I can't help but think the saga of the rescued Chilean miners will be perverted for the good of the mining industry, in the same way the corn growers of America are trying to convince everyone that high fructose corn syrup isn't about as bad for you as arsenic.

Unfortunately, mining is a necessary evil. Like gasoline, we use coal to power the things that get us through our days, without a thought of what it takes to get it out of the ground, or a thought for the people who extract this abundant resource from planet Earth. I'm not saying I want to put hundreds of thousands of people out of work, but the danger to the planet, and the danger to the people doing this particular job, just doesn't seem worth the risk anymore. We're not doing ourselves any favours by continuing this process of raping, rather than reaping what we sow. These miners were extracting copper and gold. We all know about the premium placed on goal by society, and copper is nothing to sneeze at, either. Regardless, let's add to the list my wish to see the end of mining in my lifetime.

OK, I'm getting down off my environmental soapbox now to address what's really got me cheesed about this whole miner rescue scenario: it's not the fact that one lucky miner had his girlfriend and his wife rooting for his safe return. Although, I hope they plug up that rescue shaft right quick before the guy's wife tosses him back in; what a way to find out your husband was stepping out on you...

Anyway, the revelation I had while watching the epic rescue on Wednesday has to do with the worldwide media attention it is getting. As I sat watching the CBC News coverage of the event, the one thing I kept thinking about over and over again was the Iranian hostage crisis of 30 years ago. America was in a pretty big funk about it, and I'm sure the 52 Americans held captive for 444 days in the former US embassy in Tehran weren't too thrilled either. News coverage being what it was back then, you didn't have the abundance of rhetoric or the 24/7 news cycle to contend with. Nor did the technology exist that allowed us to experience captivity along with the hostages, the way we got to experience being trapped 600 metres below the earth's surface with those 33 miners. I say, thank goodness.

Some of my most vivid memories of the Iranian hostage crisis include Walter Cronkite's nightly sign-off from the CBS Evening News, at which time he would state the number of days the hostages had been held in captivity. That poignant memory has stayed with me all these years, even if, at 12, I didn't quite understand why these people were being held captive. All I knew was, the mood of the country was decidedly dark, and there wasn't much to be happy about. Embattled President Jimmy Carter rarely smiled that big toothy smile of his, the name, "Ayatollah Khomeini", was uttered with the same distaste as "Adolf Hitler", and people wore "Fuck Iran" buttons on their clothing. All in all, not a very bright period in American history.

When the hostages finally arrived safely on American soil, nothing was too good for them. Promises of not having to pay taxes, and free tickets to baseball games for the rest of their lives were some of the gifts they received. Soon after, they all disappeared into everyday life, most never to be heard from again; as it should have been, in my opinion. They didn't disembark from their flight clutching book deals or personal appearance contracts.

The Chilean miners, however, emerged wearing Oakely sunglasses, to shield their eyes from the bright sunshine they hadn't seen in over 2 months. I jokingly snickered that they would be holding a bottle of Coke in one hand, and a foot long Subway sandwich in the other. Their rescue was heralded as an inspiration, which it was, but ultimately, it did very little to cloak the stench of commercialism and the carnival-like atmosphere that tainted their return to their friends and families. As inspiring as it was to see them reunited with their loved ones, I yearned for the days of Walter Cronkite, his dignity and credibility, not the dog-and-pony show of today's media.

I sincerely hope the 33 Chilean miners go on to live healthy and productive lives (with the exception of maybe the one with the wife and mistress). I hope the surviving Iranian hostages are enjoying their tax-free existences and their baseball games. I hope some in the world's mining community will use this event as a cautionary tale to embark on a career that is safer and more rewarding. If anything, the focus on this event taught us that literally anything is possible.

Have a great weekend.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Waiting For Columbus

Greetings Friends,

Well, it's that time of year again: Thanksgiving. Today is Thanksgiving Day here in Canada, otherwise known as a statutory holiday when everything is closed and people are supposed to be home eating turkey.

Today is Columbus Day in the US, the day Americans are supposed to celebrate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. I chose to mark the occasion with a graphic of one of my all-time favourite record albums, Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus.

Thanksgiving has a decidedly different feel here in Canada; first of all, it's on a Monday, second of all, it's still too warm outside. Third, not everyone celebrates it. At least not everyone in my family. I've been told that Americans are far more patriotic than Canadians, but to me, Canadians seem pretty patriotic. I guess I haven't been back here long enough to really grasp the idea of patriotism from a Canadian standpoint; although anyone who's immigrated here seems especially thankful to be in Canada. It's pretty strange, but right now, I'll take it. I'm glad to be able to celebrate a Canadian Thanksgiving, even though the last Thursday in November holds no significance in this country, other than the fact you can watch NFL football in the middle of the afternoon. I am again reminded of the juxtaposition of geographic proximity and vast cultural differences. That reminder gives me solace; not everyone aspires to be so American.

I had my turkey and stuffing yesterday, and for me, it's just Monday. Most everyone in the States is working, although the schools are closed and the kids are home. Thanksgiving/Columbus Day are different things to different people, and we'll inevitably just do our own thing. Part of me misses the turkey, the pumpkin pie and the football, but I don't miss Black Friday and how people tend to put so much emphasis on the holidays in general. I hope I will feel differently one day; for now, it's just Monday.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving or Columbus Day, depending which side of the border you're on. For me, it's business as usual.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Don't be a Dino

Greetings Friends,

Sorry for the silence this week; life has a way of sometimes disrupting the act of blogging, but in the words of the immortal Mighty Mouse, "Here I come to save the day."

I've written before about evolving, and now more than ever, it's important not to ever take it for granted. My last entry about Tyler Clementi's suicide from apparent cyber-bullying had me thinking all week about the world we live in and how technology has impacted it. Like everything else, technology is subject to abuse. It doesn't matter if it's a mobile phone, a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account; if we don't safeguard the tools we need to make it through today's world, it will disintegrate before our very eyes.

In terms of free speech, where do we draw the line? Do random cell phone videos posted to YouTube or writing on someone's Facebook wall constitute an invasion of privacy? We know that filming someone without their knowledge is an invasion of privacy, but if you put yourself out there to be heard, for whatever reason, is it wrong for someone to tell you, "No, you can't say that?" Ultimately, it is the person holding the pen (or typing on the keyboard) who needs to take responsibility for what they choose to put out into the great electronic void. And, sometimes we make mistakes. I'll amend my Gadget Guardian post from a few months ago by saying, it's not just the gadgets we have to protect, we have to be mindful of the users - ourselves.

The Internet is a powerful tool; it can be an incredibly rich source of information, but it is also a dangerous weapon when used for malicious purposes. We have to find a balance between the good and the evil online, just as we do in life. But, at the same time, we cannot ignore the power of technology; if we do, we endanger ourselves to the point where we just might become extinct. Yes, like the dinosaurs. The key here is to strike a balance between the tried and true, old-fashioned ways of life we count on, and "Life 2.0". If you can manage to integrate change without scaring the hell out of yourself, you're way ahead of the game. It's not easy, but it must be done. Ignoring it is to your own detriment, and sadly, to the detriment of others.

I was on my way to extinction until about a year ago. I still consider myself to be on the "endangered species" list, but I've been trying like hell to evolve. embracing social media and blogging are two of the ways in which I am pressing forward. Have I goofed along the way? Hell, yes. And I will continue to goof; we all will. I manage to refrain from posting egregious self-involved commentary on Facebook, I don't indulge in superfluous Twittering, and I try to make my blog contributions as relevant as possible. Sometimes, I screw it up. I'm learning as I go, and it's bound to happen every so often. The thing is, I need to take others with me on this journey. But, if they are unwilling to go, they don't have the right to stop me. We are all fabulously flawed members of the human race, and that's what makes us so interesting. Sometimes, a little reinvention (or a lot), is necessary to avoid extinction. The dinosaurs were unable to do so, but fortunately, humans are luckier. We can adapt and keep moving forward. We must in order to ensure our survival. If not, it will be our bones in museums, there for all the species who come after us, who were fortunate enough to stay the course and ride out their evolution.

As I said when I first started this blog, this is a journey of reinvention. I'm not there yet, and I don't know if I'll ever get there. Periodically, I like to check the space left on my hard drive to see how much room I've got left. There's always lots of room. Room for everyone to join me.

Have a great weekend.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Why Do We Hate Each Other?

Greetings Friends,

I found the above image, "Neurotico", in my travels last week, and planned to use it for another topic. I think this one is more timely.

Yesterday, I read about 18 year-old Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge, because his roommate was threatening to "out" him on the Internet with a tape of him having sex with another boy. Unfortunately, Tyler's story is one of many (and one of only a few we've heard about) about cyber-bullying and using the Internet to "out" another person.

The cutting short of a bright young life is devastating enough; the threat of being "outed" as a homosexual before one is ready to make that information public must be an unbearably torturous burden to bear. Your sexuality is your own, and should not be fodder for someone else to use as they see fit. Rumours and gossip do enough damage without entering the realm of social media, but today, they are inextricably linked. It used to be, there was nothing we could do to stop the talking, the whispering, the classroom dramas of yesteryear, that left indelible damage on so many of us. Now, when you factor in technology, it only exacerbates the problem to the point where there really is no recourse whatsoever. We can squawk all we want about needing to put an end to cyber-bullying, but really, what can be done?

Again, I need to make the disclaimer that I am childless by choice. However, this does not mean I do not have a right to speak out about this. I barely escaped my own adolescence by the skin of my teeth, and thankfully, I did not have to live through it during this information age we now live in. I grew up in New York City, and the plethora of locations at which I could have ended my life, had I felt the need to, make me shudder to think how desperate Tyler Clementi must have felt to make the ultimate sacrifice. The ignorance and cruelty that drove him to it are just unthinkable. This was no freshman college prank; this was an abuse of technology, by a fellow student who, by all accounts, knew what he was doing. Granted, there are always three sides to every story, yours, mine and the truth. By "accounts" I mean this story from The Newark Star-Ledger. I'm sure the remorse now felt by the parties who drove Clementi to suicide is genuine, but what could they have possibly been thinking beforehand? Therein lies the problem.

Is it correct to assume that we are all taught to respect human life? The answer, obviously, is "no". What we actually learn is to think of ourselves first, even if outwardly, we feel the need to exhibit altruism by appearing to be concerned with the welfare of others. In reality, we don't give a damn about others, but we want everyone to think we do. Parents need to teach their children about actually giving a damn, not just appearing to, because that's what you're supposed to do. It's a hard lesson to teach, and a hard lesson to learn. Yet, to prevent something like this from happening over, and over, and over again, parents MUST teach their children to be respectful and tolerant. If for no other reason, it could be their kid taking a dive into the Hudson River, not someone else's. That's not a good enough reason, but I believe it's the reason most people will use to assuage the guilt that comes with not raising caring, conscientious children. If you really try, you can begin to reverse the damage.

Earlier this week, I was feeling pretty rotten about being called a "schnorrer". I'm still not happy about it, but hearing about this tragedy puts it all in perspective for me. Name calling is a childish form of ignorance employed by people of all ages and is another blight we are powerless to stop. But, what Tyler Clementi did, could surely have been prevented. I've been surviving name calling since grade school, and I will continue to survive it. Sadly, Tyler Clementi forfeited his survival because of the actions of two people who will forever have his blood on their hands.