A Successful Debacle

The situation in Syria seems to be one perfectly constructed for a course in International Politics. This unfolding example has all the classic players and circumstances: a dangerous conflict in a volatile region, rational actors making assumptions, potential adversaries waiting to be influenced, superpowers positioning themselves for future leverage.

Will Assad follow the trend of tumbling dictators and finally fall? Who will govern Syria once he is gone? Will the final result embolden or deter Iran?

Looked at in the calculating light of strategy and favorable outcomes, the recent disapproval of President Obama’s handling of Syria seems reasonable. Yet despite a situation that is still fluid and unresolved, overly colorful opinions such as “fiasco”, “disaster”, and “utter debacle” are being tossed around. When looking at things objectively, these expressions of displeasure seem to be disproportionate to the current realities, and so I can’t help but wonder if this stark contrast is motivated by objective analysis or ideological bias? With so much on the line and public opinion affecting what may happen next, you would hope that those with a platform would be responsible with their words. Opinions on fast-changing events involving real-life outcomes should be flexible rather than rigid, and perhaps most importantly, anchored strongly by an empathetic sense of history.

Exaggerated claims of political calamity aside, the specific arguments are worth revisiting. Not enough support given to the opposition rebels in their battle against the Assad regime? Forgetting that inserting yourself militarily into another country’s civil war could be considered itself a “red line” and breaking of international conventions, supporting a leaderless opposition loaded with extreme elements, hardcore religious fundamentalist and ties to Al-Qaeda is not something we should want more of. Choosing a side in Middle East conflicts because you think it a strategic advantage for other potential problems has not worked well in the past(see: the arming and propping-up of Osama bin Laden in the 1980s leading to today’s Al-Qaeda, and the help in overthrowing Iran’s Prime Minister in the 1950s leading to today’s Iranian extremism.)

There are always unintended consequences, always. And after so many years of obvious failure at this sort of military interventionism, with those unintended human consequences now multiplying and intensifying and spilling into the very Syrian conflict we are now contemplating – you would think we would have learned a lesson.

The United States declared its intention to strike Assad militarily, a threat so credible that the world’s focus switched solely to Syria and the Russian’s final stopped ignoring the crisis. The Assad regime went from pretending that they didn’t know what chemical weapons were to agreeing to abide by the Chemical Weapons Convention and turn over their stockpiles for destruction.

Of course the final outcome is not yet known. Of course the Syrian people still live in horrible circumstances and face a dark road ahead. But short of dropping a bomb that neatly knocks out Assad, secularises and centralizes the rebels, and causes no harm to civilians while still thoroughly scaring Iran – any course of action will be imperfect.

A diplomatic solution has presented itself and for now the world has pulled back from another war. How, in any way that measures up to the potential horrors of military escalation, could this be a bad thing?

Have we gotten too used to this? This cowboy foreign policy, this ease with which we will drop a bomb? And when did it become considered a sign of weakness to be patient, to try for diplomacy and fight only when necessary? When did our finger get so close to the trigger?

Debate and criticism are crucial, but to engage in a case as complex as Syria with an already fixed position in mind is counter-productive. Seeing the world as drawn from a classroom blackboard, with a disregard for the human element in the eventual collateral damage, invites more problems than you think you are solving. To believe that you can successfully play chess with human pieces is arrogant folly, a myopia caused when ideology blocks the view.

Hawkish right-leaning folks are quicker to fire and want to play a firmer hand; dovish liberal-minded people will prefer diplomacy or non-involvement – reality lies somewhere in between.

And in specific defence of the Barrack Obama’s handling of the crisis: the citizens of your nation overwhelmingly do not want another war, your elected representatives will not vote for military action, there is no imminent threat to your national security, and you are moving things in a positive direction without getting entangled in somebody else’s civil war. You are flashing your gun without having to fire, without dropping bombs and killing civilians, all the while shining a light on the problem and letting others know that their actions will not go unnoticed. Viewed impartially, that looks more like successful diplomacy than a debacle.

A world leader being thoughtful without being passive, firm without being careless. What a pleasant change.

 

Space, just another frontier

 

 

 

 

 

 

An epic battle of good versus evil. A madman on the loose. Caskets covered in the flags. A familiar name is mentioned. Citizens look up to the sky as a looming menace approaches. A beautiful blonde woman standing almost completely naked, wearing nothing but a bra and panties…

Wait a second.

Full-stop, Mr. Sulu.

I bang on my tricorder. That can’t be right. Spock, is there a problem with the viewscreen?

Negative. Sensors confirm your readings, Captain. Female humanoid. Caucasian. Telemetry shows she is in optimal mating mode.

Into Darkness, indeed. I know this is only the trailer, but the fact that she is appearing in any part of the new Star Trek film wearing sexy lingerie sets me to red alert. I mean she’s just standing there, posing, fabric tight and sleek, skin shimmering. It can’t be necessary for the plot, unless to escape certain death she must disrobe and seduce some hormonal Klingon sentries guarding Kirk’s prison cell. But even that scenario has plot holes in it, what with Spock’s Vulcan though-the-wall mind-meld normally readily available.

So what gives? Why this extended full-screen shot of pushed-up breasts and a perfectly flat tummy? I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical reason for it. This is Star Trek after all, Gene Rodenberry’s brainchild, the birthplace of the Prime Directive and space exploration’s deepest philosophical questions. And director J. J. Abrams is our new messiah, the next Spielberg, the one being trusted with our most cherished pop-culture artefacts. There must be a rational explanation.

“Dr. Marcus is a weapons specialist with a PhD…she’s very intelligent.” says April Eve, the beautiful actress in question. For the sake of fuller appreciation I will let that hang on its own for a bit.

Dr. Carol Marcus was originally portrayed by Bibi Besch in the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In this movie – widely considered to be the best Trek film and credited for saving the Star Trek franchise – Dr. Marcus is a middle-aged scientist, good-looking but not in-your-face hot, and her character was strong with a very straight moral compass. She was there to introduce a new storyline and to add some interesting personal elements for Captain Kirk. There were no flashbacks, no sex-scenes showing anything elaborate or overt, the only backstory given in a few choice but dramatically potent lines. That was all that was needed and its effects are still felt today. The Wrath of Khan is every Trekkies’ favorite.

The first film in this Abrams-led Star Trek reboot (2009), on its surface, wasn’t that bad. It had all the basics covered – Bones was surly, Kirk was rambunctious, Uhura was black – but it seemed that they were just using the famous names and places as decoration, as a means to an end, which was to produce your standard Hollywood action movie. Sure Kirk was banging a green chick, but it seemed thrown in there, like here, see, it is Star Trek.

I tried my best not to be the cranky guy bemoaning how the olden days were better, I tried to ignore the long slow shots of the new Uhura (Zoe Saldana) stripping down to perfect Victoria’s Secret-like lingerie that she just happened to be wearing during her long day in Starfleet Academy’s xenolinguistic lab. But now this. A new Star Trek film and immediately there is a gratuitous shot of a hot blonde standing in her panties, and they dress it up in the name of Dr. Carol Marcus, using a vital character in the canon of Star Trek to try and give legitimacy to a blatantly cheap sales trick.

Unfortunately space is becoming just another frontier and it seems that this will be somewhere we have gone before. Judging by the fast-action and one-liners and obvious sexiness, this will be just another typical blockbuster wearing Star Trek clothing. Let’s use the name, benefit from the cachet, but not bother to keep any of the original spirit. Is this a trailer for Star Trek? Transformers? The Fast and the Furious Do Outer Space? Erase the names and the Starfleet logos and you honestly can’t tell.

The original Star Trek series first aired in the late-1960’s and was a cultural trailblazer in many ways. A black woman was not only on-board but was a senior bridge officer. Sulu was an Asian on primetime network television in a time when they were making Bruce Lee wear a mask to cover his yellow eyes. Chekov was a good-guy Russian in a time of intense of Cold War fear. Today this may seem trivial, but imagine the 60s with African Americans still being lynched and a Soviet-fuelled war raging in Vietnam. Gene Roddenberry was constantly fighting to give his minority characters a more prominent role while the network wanted to keep them in the background. Star Trek is the show that broadcasted the first scripted interracial kiss in television history, and Roddenberry and William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols did their best to make sure the network did not cut the historic scene out. The ideals of Star Trek were based on equality and human progress and the original series tackled subjects such ethic divisions, proliferation of war, and human (alien) rights. In as much as a television show can affect positive social change, Star Trek was an important cultural catalyst.

“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.” ― Gene Roddenberry

Now compare this to the objectification of women, cultural vacuity, and cheap tricks of the current Star Trek incarnation. Somewhere in the dark quiet of space, Mr. Rodenberry is very, very displeased.

The Star Trek enterprise (nice pun) has lasted almost fifty years, produced twelve feature films, and hundreds of syndicated television episodes. Sure you could say that the original 1960s Star Trek series had its fair share of fluff – female characters often wearing belly-dancer outfits and glowing oddly in extreme close-ups – but that was when the show was an unidentified lifeform and had to bow to the studios in the times of I Dream of Jeannie. Once the franchise was standing on its own there was nothing gratuitous. Gene Rodenberry had a clear vision of what he wanted: the human race progressing and thriving in a future motivated by discovery and higher purpose.

Star Trek: The Next Generation ran for seven seasons during the 80s and 90s and was a commercial and critical success and I have yet to come across a mainstream show that touched on loftier moral and philosophical questions. A scan of my positronic brain shows no evidence of cheese or overt sexiness in the entire series (Deanna Troi’s tight one-piece excluded). Imagine that. A commercial success built on quality writing, distinguished acting, and mature storylines that included the philosophy of time, determinism, free will, causation, ethics and a robot wishing he was human. To this day Next Gen fans still generate millions of dollars for the franchise.

So why veer off course? Why change the model that has worked for so long? The excuses of financial realities will inevitably be given, and of course there must be a delicate balance between art and commercial viability, but a quick look at the Batman/Dark Knight reboots gives us a current example of making billions by delivering quality film-making and not lowering the bar. So you can toss that logic out the nearest airlock (wait, I think that’s from Star Wars).

The reason there is a Star Trek to profit from today is because time and care was taken to build something of substance. And this effort not only led to a commercially successful product but also added to our culture in very positive ways. When creating something you always have a choice of how it will be handled – some have more control than others depending on their position – and in a time when Mr. Roddenberry was a struggling writer and producer he fought as best he could for his ideals. And it paid off. Today J.J. Abrams is the new golden boy, the one who will supposedly blend Hollywood blockbusters with quality movie-making, just as his mentor and hero Steven Spielberg did for decades. But I don’t recall one Spielberg film ever resorting to flashing skin.

So go ahead guys, keep it up. More and more of us are staying home and watching HBO and AMC and Netflix and giving our dollars to quality writing and character development. By playing it cheap you are digging your own graves.

Yes, there is always a choice. You can plug in the numbers and decide to go with the easy formula – or you can resist the pressures and deliver something with substance, something that will stand the test of time and not disappear into the annals of just another blockbuster. And, perhaps more importantly, you can do your part to add to the culture, to push things forward, to pay true homage to the famous name and legacy that you now control.

 

 

Cover your freakin mouth – a public service rant

I am wedged against the wall, face wincing, desperately looking for refuge. My head is lowered and my shoulders are hunched, contorting myself as much as humanly possible, trying to avoid the looming menace. My toes are curled, that’s how stressed this is making me. Nearly every fibre of my being is preoccupied with this lingering threat and I have had enough. Enough, I say.

You. Sitting there oblivious. You disgust me. I rank you among the lowest of society’s creatures, lower than the corrupt politician and only just above the thieving street thug. You. Walking amongst us without a care, infecting us all with your disease.

In Japan, courtesy towards the public good dictates the wearing of a surgical mask if you are ill and potentially contagious. No matter if it is only a mild cough or cold, this simple gesture of civility is so common that seeing someone sporting a surgical mask while walking the street or riding the subway is quite normal. So normal in fact that the more fashionable of Japanese often accessorize their little white masks with colourful prints and designs, usually including some form of Hello Kitty.

But no, not you. You hack open-mouthed into the public air. You snort and sneeze and sniffle and blow, without the slightest concern for your neighbour, your community, or society in general. I wonder where this oblivious, dismissive, self-centeredness comes from. Is it our me-first, individualistic Western culture? Do we care so exclusively about ourselves now that we have forgotten about everyone else? In our rush to define ourselves as unique individuals we seem to have forgotten that although we may be free, we are not alone.

However, we are better than China, I’ll give us that much. In China they seem to aim for the back of your neck when hacking. This is not an exaggeration. Nor is it a slight against the Chinese people or culture – they are more civilized than us in many other ways – but when it comes to bodily functions they don’t really hold themselves back. It is a veritable orchestra of coughing and horking that surrounds you, and you more than sometimes have to dodge flying spit. It’s a bacterial minefield that would be laughable, if you weren’t constantly ducking and hiding.

But that doesn’t excuse you, Western devil. You should know better. And the fact that you probably do yet don’t act on such knowledge makes you that much worse. If ignorance is bliss, then informed inaction should be damnation. Or at the very least quarantine. Or exile.

Do you not realize that besides shunning common courtesy, that you are also causing others real harm? I am so frightened at the thought of catching what you got and spending another week holed up in my apartment that I cannot concentrate on my work. Instead I am focusing on breathing in short breaths, keeping my mouth closed, and lifting my shirt discreetly to cover my nose (notice I said discreetly, because although you may not care about others I am still worried about offending you).

So I am getting nothing done, thank you very much. And if, god forbid, I should breathe in your malevolent microbes and catch your plague, then what will be lost is almost impossible to calculate. I will suffer. I will ache. I will have to linger in a sluggish, torturous state; a zombie waiting for his torment to finally end. Because of your lack of consideration for the well-being of others I will have to spend money on medicine and juices and tissues and soup. I will have to stay away from friends and family – an outcast, a leper – missing important events and wasting valuable time that will never be returned.

Oh and the damage you are doing to society. The number of people infected. The cumulative suffering. The decline in productivity. The loss of working hours.

You should be billed for our lost time. Made to nurse us back to health. Sent to an English boarding school and admonished by severe educators of etiquette.

You should be publicly ridiculed. Forced to wear a mask. A dunce’s cap. A scarlet letter.

You should, quite simply, stay home.

And if obliged by circumstance to venture into public, you should, at the very least and for the sake of us all, cover your freakin mouth.

 

 

The Holiday Spirit

This article is featured in the Montreal Gazette opinion section, click here

The holiday season is upon us. Outside the temperature drops below zero and snow gathers on the ground. In the streets people bundle up and tuck their hands in their pockets. Festive music plays and red and white lights shine bright.

The days inch closer to the holidays, and plans are being made and schedules are being set. I’m replying to Christmas party invites. And going shopping for gifts. And organizing who I’ll visit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

But wait a second, I’m Jewish.

Getting lost in the all-encompassing rush towards Christmas is understandable. The buzz in the office is all about the upcoming holiday and the closing of files before the break. Social calendars are dominated by Christmas-themed events and cocktails. And in the middle of all of this people of Jewish and other cultural and religious backgrounds must go on with their lives, minorities swimming alongside the wave of the majority. Of course they do their best to keep their own traditions, but it’s a nice time of the year and so you can’t help but get caught up in it all.

This year my family had Hanukkah dinner at Marathon Souvlaki on Decarie. I had the pork gyro.

This placing of our holiday on the backburner brings me back to all those protectionist warnings from my grandmother and just about every other old-schooler who would get you alone for more than a minute. “Who’s your new friend? Is she Jewish?” No Bubby, she most probably is not. Now fast-forward to today and I look around at my surroundings, my social circle, the culture I am a part of…and Jesus – oops I mean geez – maybe they were right. Maybe we are endangered.

These uneasy thoughts of cultural peril remind me of another declining culture in danger of being lost forever. I wonder who has more to fear, a Jew or a French-Canadian? It is possible to have more than one language, so I suppose that they are inherently more resistant to the threat of foreign influences. But religions are a bit tougher; it’s harder to carry two around.

And what if you are both Jewish and francophone? Does this mean that you’re twice as at risk of losing your identity? Oy vey, je capotte!

The way things are going, maybe the fears of Pauline Marois and Pierre Curzi and my Jewish grandmother are indeed warranted. Maybe we are all on the road to becoming amorphous Anglo-Christians wishing each other Merry Christmas instead of Joyeux Hanukkah.

The liberal quasi-atheist in me knows that this is not actually a big deal. That what really matters is spending time with friends and loved ones, no matter what title you place on the event. It’s the sentiment and the action that’s most important.

The reasonable part of me knows this to be true, but still I cannot help but feel concerned for the abstract pieces that may become lost and potentially gone forever. So who wins? The rational progressive who knows that we should evolve past man-made divisions of language and religion – or the person who feels the innate need to protect the few family traditions he has left?

Quebecois or Canadian? Jewish or Christian? Gretzky or Lemieux? Make up your mind, these are matters of utmost importance and you can’t have it all.

But wait a second. Why can’t we? Just as multi-racial families once seemed socially impossible yet are now a cultural norm – why can’t we have two languages, two cultures, heck even two religions? Why do I have to choose? Why does having one imply losing the other?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m way off. But then again maybe part of preserving what you are is embracing what you are being becoming. So that’s it, I’m doing it. This year I’m really going to get into the holiday spirit. I’m going to do it all. I’m gonna spin that dreidle and hum that carol and love thy neighbour. I’m gonna fry those latkes and carve that turkey and yes, maybe have another gyro. Happy Holidays.

True support for the Middle East conflict

Once more we return to where we once were.

“Israel has a right to defend itself” declare the supporters of Israel. “The Israelis are oppressing the Palestinian people” cry the supporters of the Palestinians. One side pointing fingers, the other pointing them right back. Over and over the same accusations and defenses are repeated. It’s getting more than a bit old.

A spark ignites in the region, people on both sides lose their lives, their homes, their sense of security – and immediately the cheerleading begins. Jews support Israel. Arabs support the Palestinians. And nothing ever changes.

What is most frustrating, and unfortunate, is how neither side ever changes their perspective. Year after year, decade after decade, the same problems arise and the same defensive postures are immediately taken. It’s as if neither party actually cares about solving the issue at hand, only that the other side is wrong.

So what is the purpose of their support? Why do they write letters and argue with friends and take to the streets? Do they actually care for the well-being of the people involved or do they simply wish to be on a team? To have somewhere to point a finger? This mix of moral outrage and self-centeredness is hypocritical and destructive.

If those involved – supporters and policy makers alike – truly cared about the safety and future of the innocent people in the region, then they would put aside prejudice and past transgressions and do their best to help move the discussion forward to a new stage. Because the obvious but apparently difficult-to-see reality is that nothing will get better if the same old circle is not broken. How can one negotiate productively with only their own interests in mind? Without considering what the other party needs or is feeling? Neither side will get respect until they can see that the other side deserves the same.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines empathy as the “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to…the feelings and experience of another”. Without such a characteristic taking its place at the forefront, negotiations and therefore solutions are doomed before they begin. A lack of empathy is the surest way to ensure a lack of progress. And without progress those you purport to care so deeply about will continue to suffer.

It is therefore the duty of all those involved, from the letter writer to the person on the ground, to relegate the base emotions of anger and pride to the back of the room. Put your personal allegiances and nearsightedness away, they do not belong at the table.

The U.S. presidential election: why we care

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

The election for President of the United States of America is upon us. Across Canadian airwaves, around dinner tables, and throughout our newspapers, the U.S. election has received not only wide coverage but often in-depth analysis. This reoccurring phenomena begs a simple but elusive question – why do we care? Why, with so many pressing issues of our own, do we consistently turn so much of our attention to a political process that has next to nothing to do with us?

You could say that since the U.S. is our largest trading partner that the American election has significant economic consequences for Canada. You could say that since Canada relies on the United States as an ally on the international stage and in foreign policy decisions that the choice of their leader is important to us as a nation.

But that’s not really why we care. Whoever is president, Democrat or Republican, will not substantially change American economic or foreign policy towards Canada; and most major decisions must go through their Congress and thus are not directly in the hands of the President.

So what is the reason for our fascination with their electoral process? Why do our newspapers run opinion pieces on their candidates, why do our political discussions often focus on their issues rather than our own, and why did I get so excited that I threw a “debate party” at my place on the night of the first presidential debate?

The answer is both obvious and abstract. The U.S., despite all that they do wrong, all their divisiveness, and war-mongering, and extreme thinking – is still the center of the Western world. Their sheer size makes them a force we must pay attention to. Their hyper-capitalist mentality pushes everything they do, from Hollywood to their politics, across the globe and into our consciousness. We are caught in their wake, pulled in by their gravity.

As a major force in almost every field, from the arts to the environment, from the military to big business, the United States is the de facto global cultural leader. And this makes what they do relevant. Not because a new President will directly affect our safety or our pocket books, but because the directions that they take matter. Because of the U.S.’s central place in our general culture, the paths they follow will affect the ones available to us. They set the pace. They can stall progress on global warming, or push the world along to new paradigms. They can feed extremism’s fire, or elect an African-American as President and set a new cultural norm for us all.

And what they do is not only responsible for tangible changes in the directions we take, but is also symbolic of where we are as a society. They are that big fat lab experiment there for us all to see. That dysfunctional reality show broadcast on worldwide television. And this is why we care, why we cannot look away. Because they are a measuring stick. A mirror. Onto all that we wish we were and all that we do not want to be.

So I will stay up late on Nov. 6th and watch. Not only because of the specific consequences it may have for our society, but for that bigger view of where we are as a culture. What they do shows me what we are doing.

I won’t tell you who I’m rooting for, but let’s just say I hope that we are moving forward.

9/11

September  11th. 9/11. Every year the same feelings return.

All around are the clear signs of what it is I should be feeling; but for me it is never that simple, is always a disturbing mix of conflicting emotions.

It’s part flashback. The surreal movie-like scenes. Me sitting at my desk as the 2nd tower collapsed. People caught in that unimaginable dilemma and jumping from a burning building.

Part remembrance. The emergency workers running towards the disaster and not from it. People frantically looking for their loved ones. The candlelight vigils held around the world.

And part reflection. Not only on the specific act and its consequences, not only on the lost lives and terrible suffering, but on the greater issues surrounding that day and the days after it. What is to be the legacy of that day? What is the point of continuing to mark this event if we will not take the time to learn from it?

These questions are the sort of thoughts that get in the way of that indisputable feeling I know I should have. I feel the guilt creep in as the speeches begin to fall on my deaf ears and the questions come to the forefront instead. But I can’t help it.

Is it our responsibility only to remember? To give a moment of silence and play back the video footage and write heart-warming updates on Facebook?

How do we truly honour the dead? By waving a flag? By violence and strong words? By regressing instead of progressing?

I know that amidst our everyday lives we must find a practical way to pay respect to such monumental events. And I know that faced with radical people armed with violence that sometimes we must in turn be violent.

But I also know that our duties do not end there.

The true tragedy would be for such a horror to have happened and not to have built something greater from it. That is how we truly honour such a thing.

Yet we are not doing it. We allowed fear to blind us into an invasion of Iraq, costing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives and building a new generation of extreme hate. Cases of violence and abuse against innocent Muslims have increased, causing a new rift between “us” and “them”.  A war-drum now beating to the tune of Iran, that old song bringing us that much closer to more suffering. Our political discourse still mired in divisive and alienating dialogue, caring more about individual gains than the greater good of the nation.

What a shame for so many to have died and so little to have changed.

That is the thought that gets in the way on days like today.

What a shame.

Going…going…gone? (TSN990 and what really matters)

How much is too much?

Does more always equal better?

Do we need to review our definition of value?

These are some of the questions that arise when I sit down long enough with the “big” questions. As you dig down beneath the surface of an issue, getting underneath the common arguments, reducing the points down to their purest form – you often end up with these sort of existential questions.

Problem is that when you’re dealing with an issue that is seemingly straightforward and black and white, these sorts of subjective and incomplete answers don’t seem to be enough. They just don’t cut it.

Or maybe, they’re just what we need.

Last week Bell Media (part of BCE), the largest telecommunications company in Canada, announced it was going to shut down the English-language sports radio station TSN990 and convert it to a French radio station. Here is the backstory. Just over 10 years ago the TEAM990 radio station was created and with the help of local sports broadcasting veterans Ted Blackman, Mitch Melnick, and others, the TEAM990 built a loyal audience and established itself as a reliable source of sports news and talk radio for the anglophone community of Montreal. In 2007, Bell Media bought the TEAM990 as part of a larger acquisition and eventually switched the station’s name to TSN990, with the station continuing to run pretty much as usual. This year, Bell Media made a deal to buy Astral Media for over 3 billion dollars, but because of CRTC laws stopping one company from owning too many stations in the same market, Bell Media is deciding to shut down TSN990 radio so that their purchase of Astral can go through.

Seems straightforward enough. A company wants to make a purchase and grow; there are legitimate laws stopping the deal from happening; so the company is closing one of their smaller divisions and getting the deal done.

What’s the problem?

Sure it’s unfortunate that TSN990/TEAM990 has to be closed down. Yes it’s terrible that all those years of hard work and community-building and benefit to our culture will be lost. But what can you do? It’s nobody’s fault directly, it’s just circumstance.

And this is where those existential questions run into those black and white situations.

How much is too much? Does more always equal better? Do we need to review our definition of value?

A billion dollar corporation gets that much bigger – but a business built of passion and hard work will be no more. An already abnormally large company buys out its competitor so that it can increase its revenue – but we lose an important part of the local community.

What is it that we hold as important? At what point do we put aside the excuses of circumstance and pay attention to the pervasive effects that unlimited corporate growth is having on our culture?

It is sometimes difficult to keep focused on such abstract moral subtleties when faced with the seemingly inarguable notion of increased profit being a good thing. But we must keep these questions constantly with us, because even if the theories and policies that we use are cold and efficient, we are not.

We need these abstract things. This culture that gets eaten away bit by bit is important to us. In today’s modern world the culture we grow up in becomes our heritage – and it should not be so easily sacrificed.

As time goes on, and as corporations intertwine themselves into more and more of our lives, we must find a delicate balance between growth and conservation, between the harsh advance of capital and the value of those harder-to-define things we need.

Deals like the Bell/Astral one may seem benign, may seem like the “natural” evolution of a market economy, but we must ask: is giving away another piece of ourselves really worth that minuscule bump in profit margin? Let’s be careful and protective of that abstract thing we call our culture, because if we are not, if we simply shrug our shoulders at supposedly black and white circumstances, that abstract and very fragile thing we call our heritage will slowly disappear.

Ohh Canada

Like most young Canadians I know little of our past.

Sure I remember the Plains of Abraham, and Sir John A. Macdonald, and some other random bits from grade 10 history. But to be honest, that’s about it. (and I had to Wikipedia those to refresh my memory).  I could give you a pretty decent summary of the major events of WWII, yet know next to nothing of the role our country played. I have spent countless hours watching and reading about America’s Revolutionary War but have no idea how our own nation was formed.

But I don’t feel bad; I know it’s not my fault. Tom Hanks has never played a quiet but strong Canadian soldier so I have never felt a burning need to learn much of our history. And there’s another reason that I don’t dwell too hard over my patriotic shortcomings – because the things that make me “Canadian” are not meant to be so simple to define.

When I travel the world I always show my passport with pride. Always utter the words “I’m Canadian” knowing it will be met with a pleasant reply. Have always waved our flag high during the Olympics. But why? Why identify myself positively with this country? Because I had a sense that this was a good place. That’s it. That’s all I ever needed to feel proud of where I came from. I did not need a glorious history of rockets red glare or bombs bursting in air. I felt this country had a good heart and that was enough for me.

In an increasingly globalized world, a traditional sense of national identity becomes less and less practical. Divisions based on name have only ever led to short-sightedness and conflict, so the fact that we Canadians do not cover ourselves wholly and blindly in the red and white maple leaf is a good thing. It keeps us open and ready to evolve with the rest of the world.

Yet as I turn on the television and read the paper and go about my life, I see things that trouble me, things that stir in me a desire to step up and defend this difficult-to-define nation of ours. Defend it not from traditional enemies attacking traditional notions of country – but from more elusive adversaries threatening that more subtle definition of our nation.

I see how Canada’s reputation on the world stage is being tarnished by an embarrassing devotion to fossil fuels and big money. How we are building more prisons than schools. How our political discourse has devolved into endless attack ads influenced by special interests. How our media is going the way of Fox News and our American neighbours, with increased partisanship trying divide our nation in two. And how we have allowed corporate advertising to take over public spaces without restraint, turning our cities into clones of suburban Texas strip malls.

Doesn’t this seem impossible? Not here. Not us. Never would we allow money to influence our national welfare. Never would we want the Canadian landscape to become an amorphous replica of a shopping mall. But it’s happening. And it’s happening because we are losing track of the very thing that made us who we are, the only thing that gave Canadians any sort of deep national identity. That this is a good place. That good things happen here. As the world eats at itself over petty disagreements and greed and distorted senses of value – we Canadians could always sit up here, supposedly cold and backwards and living in igloos, and chuckle at how ridiculous they all are. We could recognize the subtle difference that made us special.

So with Canada Day approaching, perhaps this is the one thing about being Canadian that we should remember. Not General Montcalm or the Battle of 1812 or powdered wigs; not making the most money or beating the other side at any cost – but that definition of ourselves as people with some common sense living in a good place we want to keep good. If we keep that in mind as we go forward and drop some of these bad new habits, things just might straighten themselves out.

 

I used to love her, but I had to kill her (lament for American politics)

For a long time I was addicted.

It started with CNN. Was sorta like training wheels, an “Intro to Cable News” 100-level beginner’s course that covered all the basics without getting too specific. The major subjects were there, always with the right graphics and flashing lights, but after a few years the Best Political Team On Television just wouldn’t cut it anymore. The waving flags and constant Breaking News exaggerations began to lose their luster. I kept going back for more and kept leaving disappointed, unfulfilled. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, well…well…you know how the joke goes. (ode to W.)

The political fix I was getting from CNN was no longer going to be enough. My cravings had become too strong and I was now too advanced for what this increasingly fluffy network could provide. So I moved onto MSNBC and FOX News, looking for something deeper, a more intense buzz. And it worked. The issues were discussed in finer detail, the opinions more passionate, and there seemed to be an atmosphere of not merely presenting fabricated political theater, but actually caring about the big issues enough to roll up their sleeves and get dirty with it.

And that’s what I needed. That’s why I was devoting so much of myself to the subject of American politics – because it was important. It mattered. The US was the “leader of the free world” so what happened in their political world was worth paying attention to. My appetite for big issues, my desire to be a part of the larger debates affecting our world, all pointed me in the direction of the American political spectrum.

Honestly, who cared what happened in my local city politics? Even my national elections didn’t have any substantial consequences. Things up here would be OK, no matter which way things went. But what happened in the US…now that was big, that mattered.

So I stayed committed. Listened to Air America and watched Keith Olbermann and went to bed with the Daily Show. When I needed my raged stroked, I would watch clips of Bill O’Reilly and Hannity and the other archaic hardliners.

I was fully involved, ready to keep on fighting. And at the peak of my addiction, after the New Hampshire democratic primary, as Barrack Obama gave a roaring piece of poetry dressed as speech, I felt goosebumps over my body and tears swelling in my eyes. It was worth it. My energies had not been wasted. My love had been given to the right place.

And, like millions around the world, I did celebrate. Felt part of history.

But like any buzz, it wears off. Quicker and quicker the more artificial the substance.

The longer I watched and the more I learned, the more I began to see. Soon I began to notice that the talking heads all sounded the same. The pundits brought on as experts all delivered identical talking points. It was always Left vs. Right and us vs. them. As I developed a deeper understanding of the issues, and as I became more immune to the flashy presentation and pumped up rhetoric, a sick and deepening realization came to me…

This is disgusting.

Poverty, war, healthcare, income inequality – issues that are literally life and death for millions of people – being used as taglines for a rehearsed and never-ending cycle of posturing and ulterior motives.

I became and am still horrified.

I realize now that most of you don’t actually care about any of the issues you pretend to represent. You care only about your side. You’re a glorified, self-centered cheerleader. Nothing more.  You bicker like 12 year old siblings and keep vital conversation running in circles while people suffer and die waiting for you to fulfill your obligations of public service.

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.                                                           –Martin Luther King, Jr.

What may be worse, and who may deserve an even hotter place in eternity, are those who are in a position to help and instead look to their own selfish self-interests.

So I am weaning myself off of your glamour. Yes, I still check-in to Morning Joe, and Rachel Maddow, and Bill Maher, because every addict still longs for a fix and these folks seem to have their heart and heads in the right place.

But I am outgrowing you, US politics. The world is moving forward and you are still running in the same old spot. I still believe you can be great. I still hold on to that hope. But until you shape up, throw out the money, and stop being so goddamn focused on your own petty little bubbles…I have to step away. I just can’t let you do this to me anymore. I will not be a part of it.