Saturday, October 28, 2006

Egypt, Greece, New Jersey

Went to the Ancient Egypt,Greece and Rome exhibit at the Glenbow Museum on Friday afternoon. It was very good although I was a little miffed reading a museum display promising that Greece was replaced by an "even greater" empire: Rome. Im not sure exactly how to measure an empire but I'd put Greece up against Rome by virtually every measure that is virtuous. Of note to House of Leaves mavens was some wonderful Minoan bowls with the labyrinth pattern proudly embossed. Its very spellbinding to be in the presence of things that are made by human hands nearly 4 thousand years ago.

And speaking of, there was a case of burial statues called shabti. These were carvings of workers you would need to help you in the afterlife. It was very sophisticated and it seemed as though every aspect of organizational behavior was thought of as there were even shabti to organize shabti. Presumably so they don't goof off in your afterlife. As I peered through the glass thinking about how I would pull off a spectacular cat burglary of the place to a Chemical Brothers soundtrack when it struck me how similar this was to Second Life.

Indeed, everyone on secondlife is creating avatars (not unlike the mummy masks) creating imaginary jobs and goals and entire virtual lives. It seems that the Egyptians were doing the same thing by burying with them the same undigital trappings of the secondlife community. Though the tools have changed, little else has changed in the hearts of men for thousands of years.

Speaking of change, I've been enjoying the New Jersey court defense of gay marriage. Of course it has social conservatives explaining the ills of "activist judges." Even the president has used this favorite catch phrase of the right. Lets us forget for a moment that this is really just a synonym for "I disagree with" Part of the rhetoric is that judges are appointed and therefore essentially undemocratic. I guess this doesn't apply to Donald Rumsfeld, Rice, et al? Rumsfeld's acerbic disdain for nearly everyone would assure him of never reaching office if he had to secure the will of voters. Why do we not hear of "activist defense secretaries?" Many Canadians envy the Americans ability to actually vote for their leader (presumably they envy the few who bother turning out to vote for the president) but at least every one in the Canadian cabinet had to face the fickle mob of at least a constituency.
But back to my point, its curious that in all the whoopla of how great American Democracy is( I learned that on CNN,) everyone on the social right doesn't question the content of the decision- they question the institution of the supreme court itself. The American social conservatives share this skepticism of its institutions with the least stable of democracies in the world. When democracy and democratic institutions are not yet habitual in emerging or crumbling democracies, people don't question policy or decisions but the very institutions themselves. Witness common reactions around the world that chose to throw out elected regimes because they don't like them. In stable democracies, people at least separate unpopular policy from the institutions. Its true, stable countries like Canada have been tinkering with our institutions but not because of unpopular decisions, rather to make the country more equitable. Questioning the independence of the courts (perhaps one of the most important metrics in the assessment of a healthy democracy) is just another in a series of disturbing trends in America in the Bush era.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Islam is the new Christianity; Pink is the new Red

"Short is the way, little the labor, which, nevertheless, will repay you with the crown that fadeth not away. Accordingly, we speak with the authority of the prophet: 'Gird thy sword upon thy thigh O mighty one.' Gird yourselves, everyone of you, I say, and be valiant sons; for it is better for you to die in battle than to behold, the sorrows of your race and of your holy places. Let neither property nor the alluring charms of your wives entice you from going; nor let the trials that are to be borne so deter you that you remain here "
-speech by Pope Urban II

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Only Revolutions:part 1

Today, I got "Only Revolutions" I started reading Hailey until page 48 then began Sam up to same point. Will put it down till tomorrow and perhaps I will read smaller chunks before switching narratives (if thats what I'm doing?)

So far: It is difficult, cloudy impressions are beginning to form, halfway through my read I began to read it faster and found it more somethingorother.

I suspect some have read it at least once by now though Im not sure Im ready to hear anyone's thoughts just yet. Even though I am.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Only Revolutions

MPAA winning the hearts & minds of youth

Well, my sworn enemy for 2006, the Motion Picture Association of America, provides me with yet more fodder. I wish I could be making this up but no, they have helped the boy scouts concoct a "respect for copyright" merit badge! I stole a page from their press release which contains the usual selfless sob story about how copyright violators are stealing jobs from set electricians making double what they'd make in the private sector. Its hard to be sympathetic. Paying lead actors tens of millions of dollars is hardly an economical business model. While its always been a core value that everyone is entitled to get what they can for their services, its hard to believe that anyone pays this. It seems that declining ticket sales is a sign that star salaries are overdue for a correction. But instead, the MPAA continues with its campaign against copyright infringement to stem the tide of market dissatisfaction, rather than change their product or business model. I wouldn't need to be so cynical if they didn't centre their campaign away from their own declining profits and on to the sob story behind the scenes joe lighting guy. I think I'll order one of the merit badges so if I ever happen to swallow some liquid plumber, I can induce vomiting.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Nobel Prize Grameen Bank

I rather liked the 2006 Nobel Prize selection, Mohammad Yunus. His Grameen Bank micro-loan project seems to be a ringing success. I did find it interesting in last weekends Globe and Mail that the econ PHDs they talked with admitted that it was only a limited benefit since the average standard of living increase for participants was only 5 percent. Surely these guys must understand that five percent higher than just barely getting by is a pretty big difference in quality of life? Another economist warned that since all of these micro-loans were secured without credit, there is a risk that they wouldn't be paid back. In fact, the Grameen bank has a 98.8% repayment ration. Pretty good for a system that runs in complete opposition to the industrial worlds banking!

I also thought that the Nobel committee's' politics (there's always politics) were curiously in line with Bill Clinton's current philosophical drive. He's been criss-crossing the lecture circuit reminding people that security is best achieved buy buying someone a sewing machine and increasing their standard of living rather than waiting till a society has broken down and then spending a thousand times more with military pressure. To me it seems no accident that Yunus was given the Peace Prize rather than the Economics Prize. It is a pretty big advertisement for the Clinton school of security.

For the other 2006 Nobel winners, go here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ironic signposts, the pope: bedfellows

The Holy See screwed up my change of address form I sent so Im responding rather late to the pope's latest offering to his children. The meat or actually, the gristle of the speech was that faith must be tempered by reason. Without reason, faith turns to fundamentalism. Pretty enough words I suppose for the leader of an organization that once burned the Library of Alexandria to ashes. But I suppose I can hardly disagree that its better to be a little bit irrational than completely irrational. Which leads me to the Christian right in America.

Once upon a time third year stats students could predict republican/democrat voter tendencies by education/income data. Now, the best indicator of whether one voted republican is the frequency of church attendance. And so I wonder if the republican party needs to heed the words of the pope and inject some reason to its faith. I ask this in the context of recent events in North Korea. Forgetting the potential threat that a nuclear Korea presents, its a curious embarrassment to US foreign policy. Lets remember that the US went to war in Iraq ostensibly to secure the US (and the world) from WDMs. As Americans apathetically digest the fact that there weren't any, Korea goes nuclear. Indeed, the pope couldn't find a better time to urge that faith be tempered with reason.

As far as the war in Iraq goes, despite the fact that I consume news fairly voraciously, I did not notice anyone noticing an ironic signpost pointing to the preposterosity that is US policy: Sometime in the last month, more Americans have been killed in Iraq than were killed in 9/11. The Afghan mission was apparently about justice while the Iraq mission was about saving American lives from danger. While 2700 Americans were killed in 9/11 (plus others non-Americans who inccidently are become a fast growing nation. All non-Americans need is a catchy tune and some postage stamps to be the largest nation on Earth!) where was I? Right 2700 killed in 9//11 and now 2756 (as of Oct 11 2006) Americans have been killed. All I can say to this curious milestone is to quote David Byrne and the Talking Heads: "Letting the days go by, water flowing under ground, letting the days go by, same as it ever was, same as it ever was..."

For the stat curious, the US casualties in Iraq are officially listed at 20, 468 while Iraqi civilian losses are pegged at between 400, 000 and 600, 000 depending on what data you believe. Staggering folly on par with some other numbers I dug up for contrast.

In the five years since 9/11, there have been approximately 150,000 gun deaths in America. Wow. Half of those are suicides leaving 75,000 gun deaths costing the health care system 4 billion dollars a year. That's ten 9/11s every single God Bless America's War On Terror Years!!!

And while Americans are dying by the thousands in Iraq in the name of American security, and by the tens of thousands at home in the name of the 2nd amendment, Korea apparently casually builds nuclear weapons. Indeed, will the republicans please add some reason to their faith.

You'll never hear me say it again:" Will they please listen to the pope!"

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Petty Irritants

And now the airing of petty irritants:

1) Its curious that the current Foley scandal is really going to hurt the republicans in the upcoming midterm US elections. Its a picture perfect encapsulation of the bizarre tango with Americas number one dance duo: Sex and Violence. The war in Iraq hardly dampens the spirits of American voters as much as a sex scandal. A nod to America's lingering Puritanical roots and violent origins. CNN enjoys a feeding frenzy over this issue while the War in Iraq was initiated under false pretense and has cost the US over 300 billion dollars (see ticker under the archives) Add this scandal to the 20 billion dollars of missing reconstruction contract money that barely makes the papers. Add this scandal to virtually all American intelligence reports explaining how the current foreign policy has made the US less safe while the administration claims the exact opposite. Add this scandal to the colossal ineptness dealing with hurricane Katrina. Add this to the unconscionable practice of characterizing all objections to public policy as being a boon to terrorism or soft on terror and the like. This is a grotesque insult to dialogue and certainly a slap in the face of the very freedom that so far 2700 Americans have gave their lives supposedly defending. And Yet: It will likely be a bland sexual advance that will tip the scales at the polls this November. Yes, it is tempting to connect the Republican's twisted, repressed sexuality in all this, their medieval attitude towards gays and lesbians and their unwavering, self-imposed responsibility of being America's moral compass. But alas, young boys have their admirers going all the way back to the toga-clad Academy and so I can only blame the Republicans for their cowardly cover up.
Among many other sins.

2) The guy who does the voice over work for CTV. I really loathe affectation. There's also something rather distasteful about using the same faux drama affectation for doing a plot summary of Grey's Anatomy and then using the same voice for the news lead in. Its as though CTV has just given up trying to pretend they separate entertainment from news. On second thought, maybe I prefer that kind of honesty.

3) 20% of drivers on 11th and 12th Aves SW in Calgary. They're both 2-lane and every time I want to cross (its always very busy) some chowderhead who clearly never walks anywhere, slows down and stops then looks at me with consternation wondering why I don't cross blindly into the next lane only to be struck by the other lane of traffic that hasn't stopped. For the love of god, just drive past, I may be crippled but I'm not retarded!

4) And speaking of cars, the Harper government is contemplating the very strict California emissions for Canadian cars which I naturally applaud. Buzz Hargrove (isn't he dead yet) was seen in many a media scrum this week in tears crying that the industry couldn't possibly meet this new demand. So did I just dream that in the mid seventies there was a realization the oil was a scarces resource and that pollution was choking our cities? It must have been a dream since that would mean the auto industry would have had 30 years to realize that the way they make cars was as dead as the V8. Surely that last 10 years of talking about Kyoto wasn't translated into the language of slumbering oligiopic-ese.

5) The Liberal party of Canada. What are you guys thinking anyway. Lets be honest, the only thing that is of concern in the next election is ensuring that that Liberal party at least appears to be moving slightly to the right so that it can steal votes away from the conservatives. Clearly Bob Rae doesn't fit the bill for this reason. I may like him more but lets not be trapped by the personality myth here. It is rare leaders that swing voters to them. Rather you must place yourself where the voters are. Mike Ignatief is better ideologically placed.
I guess though at the end of the day I couldn't really care who they pick because it makes no difference anyway. Frankly unless I read the paper, I can't tell by any of my five senses who runs this country.

I can assure you that my petty irritants are a resource, that while governed by thermodynamics, are nearly inexhaustible. If anyone can figure out how to harness this energy, I will gladly sell it back to the grid and split the profits. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of patience, and so I shall close.