Friday, March 31, 2006

Where did the Six Weeks Go?

Alas or already, my time serving on coop placement is complete. There were countless bright moments, challenges, hand shakes, broadening horizons, inspiring discussions, kind people, involved people, busy people, prominent people and many exposures to the world of international governance.

I learned how complex issues are. The organization that I worked for is tirelessly involved in researching, organizing and initiating projects that seek to change the way policy is done and the way resources are administered. As a relatively new organization with diverse mandates that aren't easily summarizeable, this organization is seeking to increase its exposure threefold, and what I saw -the ambition, reflected that. You have to be a "forward thinker" as a media relations person and look for your own opportunities to send your message appropriately. I learned the role of NGO's in international affairs, how many opportunities there are in this vast world and how the purpose of politics must ultimately be for humanitarian good, though that word needs to be passionately debated for it to have any relevance.

I enjoyed writing news releases, building media contacts, going to meetings, planning and making sure events ran smoothly. Working with internationally renowned people could be intimidating, but I realized they all had their human quirks in person. They still all sat at normal desks. A lot of times my role was the little things like setting up chairs or supplying background information on a contact but it was also the intangible things like making sure that guests felt comfortable that made the difference. Through my employers hospitality to me -like the fact that they took me out for lunch today, I was able to feel welcomed and I was able to pass that on.

Yesterday was perfect evidence of why I'd love to stay at my job. 100 high school students came for our Global Youth Forum and I got to lead them to sessions where they learned about poverty, microfinance, water sanitation, disease prevention and how they could get involved abroad and right in their communities. These children were as quick as a whip and didn't accept any band-aid solutions without giving them a second attempt. These children, as a group, will probably have more effect on the future than any previous generation. With rougly 1.7 billion youth between the ages of 10-24, experts predict that this will be the largest population of youth in the history of this planet. They are predicting that population will plateau and then fall off. Can you imagine the effects their choices will have? As generations make a mess of the world and the environment, each successive generation has to come up with that much better a set of solutions for them to survive. We are counting on the next generation for our foibles but it is also our responsibility to do what we can now for the generations of the past!

It was wonderful for them to get involved and play the trading game where they were assigned varying amounts of resources in the form of description cards. They learned about international economics through trading resources, manufacturing and other credits to build wealth as countries. It was funny to see some of them walking around like salespeople saying: "we got cotton anyone need some cotton? Excellent cotton for some beef" and occasionally steal other team's resources.

It was sad/happy to take down all the papers that had accumulated on my bulletin board throughout the weeks, putting them in a binder or in the recycle bin. Sending myself messages from my new email account back to my old, looking at my boss's empty desk (not all goodbyes are perfectly coordinated), where flowers sit as a representation of her bright spirit. Now that I've left the office space, I want to curl up like a dying animal and cling to my guitar, so that is what I will do before I work up the nerve to start off on my serious job search -my resurrection. Then I will go see Frenchman and see what he is up to. Perhaps we will indulge in an astrological reading for a mental diversion. The I will go listen to the illustrious Richard Laviolette play music.

Now the stage of finishing school is in the wings. That is the immediate goal. There is a great sense of haste in my breast right now. I have no job lined up and just a few more weeks until freedom yet somehow I feel the rising of something. I am very lucky to have people looking out for me. I am anxious to follow this organization as they continue to provide public lectures and knowledge. Through each connection there is a doorway which leads to a myriad of possibilities. All it takes is the courage to step through.

Filed under personal diegesis

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Hills have Thighs

What are you looking at freak? What? Never tried uranium before?

So even though I'm not usually into movies that will make me feel uneasy -I like CSI but usually lose track of the plot, I didn't like the Exorcist, [I know, sorry]. I usually stick to comedy or feel good movies but instead my friends dragged me into see the horror The Hills have Eyes. I didn't realize it was a remake at the time, but apparently there are several sequels of this originally done by Wes Craven with variations on the theme.

The main premise is that an American family on vacation ventures out to see the desert but they get side-tracked by a whacked out gas station attendant, whose untrustworthy advice leads them into the snares of a band of mutant thugs who steal, rape and kill. From there, the "lucky ones die first" -movie tagline

The movie begins with some beautiful/terrible shots of nuclear bombs exploding, black and white footage of trees being blown apart, interspersed with quick images of deformed babies. I thought it was quite artistic and fitting. It sent a message about nuclear proliferation to say the least. Every time it switched to the mutant shots of babies with swollen heads squeezed against the sides of a display jar, a crackly, loud noise feels like it's scratching the insides of our ears out (or at least that's how it felt in the movie theatre where the sound was turned up a few decibels higher than a physician would tell you is reasonable). I found this opening beautiful and disturbing at the same time. A fitting and thought-provoking intro.

The first scene is the grab-you-by-the-balls opener where government researchers are walking around in the desert in white protective suits (for the radiation) using some kind of metre (more crackling) and tongs to gather samples from the nuclear test site. You don't see what attacks them but they are brutally slaughtered with an axe faster than they can climb up a rock or say "hi". Then you see them chained behind a pickup truck, dead bleeding bodies dragging away.

It takes some time to get into the movie before the characters are even introduced or you know what the heck is going on. The gas station attendant is a hick living in his shack. When something stirs up his curiosity, he goes to investigate with his shotgun, but then when he can't find anything, he whines "I can't do this no more!" He comes back to his shack and finds a duffel bag full of chains, wallets, and among other things, a severed ear. His reaction is not of shock, just of mild disgust and exasperation. Obviously there is something strange in this neighborhood, and he's part of it.

There are lots of false alarms and shocks which kind of annoyed me, but they made me jump after all. I said to myself: these are the ingredients of a horror movie, B. Then, finally, you meet the family who stops at the station for some gas and some directions. There are the older parents, the newlyweds -a democrat cellphone salesman who is off-set by the macho republican father of the bride and the two younger kids -the cute superficial teenage girl and her rascal younger brother. The family is obviously from the city and they can't get over how cooky the desert seems, with all it's rolling tumbleweeds and rusty cars, whiskey bottles and accumulated junk. The father obviously thinks of this as a cute holiday never stopping from being proud of himself, and although the mother isn't so keen, they vicariously relive their honeymoon through the newlyweds who are off to a patchy start with the fussiness over their baby and the competition of the father and son-in-law.

So, since the father wants to show off to his new family he decides to follow the gas station attendant's directions "just follow that dirt road"...Bad move. Never trust a sketchy sun-burned man who smokes a cigar while operating a gas pump. Well, they aren't driving for long when the audience sees what they don't see -something mysterious pulled out on the road causing their tires to blow and the resulting crash. What are they going to do now?

Well, I won't ruin the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it, but the movie goes into a campy horror flick once each family member splits up to find the best solution to getting out of the desert...When there is no way out of the desert. After the initial shocks -being confronted by some pretty mean miners with pick axes who stalk them with binoculars, gripping scenes featuring the best of the grotesque, the pushover cellphone salesman turns meat-eating hunk in a vengeful fit, setting out to confront his attackers, who have stolen off with his baby.

What I liked about this movie was that it followed many of the rules of a normal horror movie yet had so many reversals. The villains were visually a cross between corpses, Jason and aliens, and they acted like zombies or vampires. This picture is a good example. The family is quite nice too despite their annoying human qualities, their hubris, so you feel for them. When you think the plot can't get worse, it does quite well. There are some funny parts where it's so bad it's good and the plot introduces some distastefully vile things that make horror movies better, if that's what you're into.

Some key highlights were

  • The mutant girl who's face is totally messed up but who my friend and I joked was nevertheless "kinda hot". She is sympathetic to their cause, destabilizing the idea that the nuclear mutants are all inherently evil.
  • The hints at the interesting history of the miners who refused to leave the mines after the site became a government conspiracy/nuclear test site.
  • The part when the cellphone salesman creeps into a room where a nuclear mutant who is restricted to a wheelchair is wheezing and singing "Star Spangled Banner". He later stabs a mutant through the neck with an American flag.
  • When the brother and sister rig the trailer with propane tanks and matches placed on sandpaper attached to the door so that it will blow up when the mutant opens it.
  • The fact that by the end of the movie, the main character has been axed, had fingers cut off, had his head beaten against the ground, been stuck in a box with other hacked up corpses, escaped, thrown through a window and is completely caked with blood by the time it is over.
  • That the movie finishes from the perspective of a telescope, watching the characters, presuming themselves to be victorious.

It's worth it to watch these kinds of movies once in awhile and revel in the baser appetites. It is morbid and disgusting, but then it makes you feel better about yourself via catharsis. My friend had just been losing his cool about someone who made him so angry that he was in the perfect mood to see others slaughtered. My suggestion for anyone who wants to harm others: watch this movie instead.

Filed under Movie Reviews

Friday, March 24, 2006

Patriarchal Magazine Titles, Schmoozing and Starting Fires

I got to attend this magazine launch today where I sipped punch, ate hors d'oeuvres, posed for pictures and mingled with the media. Rex is a magazine focusing on our city's business edge, featuring stories about everyone from American entrepreneur Eric Lynes of Biltmore, who is resurrecting the full-brim 50's hats of the most fashionable haberdashers to major suppliers, think tanks like CIGI, venture capitalists, technical mavericks and heavy hitters like Linamar, who is the guts of our local car industry.

I saw one of my fellow students who is also on coop with the local media, The Record, who owns the magazine. She was swelling with pregnancy and had that wonderful glow that comes to women within their nine months. It shocked me and reminded me how long it's been since we saw each other last, since we've been away from school, since our placements started, since the strike started, since life took off at a break-neck speed.

When I got home today I had a forward in my account, a video of Evegeni Plushenko
I wanted to send it to a few people, but as it turned out, I sent it to EVERYONE on my list, including people I haven't talked to in years, people like old bosses who I hope will not be upset or outraged to see a figure skater in the buck (almost).

As a success story of how keeping busy makes people have hilarious adventures in life, I have to quote a part of an email my friend sent me, notifying me that she is moving away soon and also telling about her chaotic schedule and the superstitious conspiracy of machines:

"...And second/last (in the name of brief), I am in my last week of
working at the X (a series of fireworks were just shot off by
a rally of cheerleaders behind me... if only these breathtaking
effects could transcribe via the interweb. Let down again...)
Yep, and on my last Saturday night shift EVER, the grill felt like
celebrating. And then we had a fire. Yep. A f*cking fire. The blaze
itself was minimal. The cleanup, however, was legendary. Four people,
working four hours past the time we meant to leave. That's 16 hours of
needless, steel wool grated scrubbing. Mother.

But I am not telling you this tale to gain your sympahty. Rather, I
tell it with great concern. See, after the fire was contained, we
good-humoured kitchen folk turned up the music and got down to
cleaning business. The music we selected to keep was going was
provided by my sweet, innocent, pink ipod mini, set to shuffle mode.
And in its wit, ipod selected from that point on- from some 1100 songs
the following tracks : M.I.A. : Fire Fire, Talking Heads : Burning
Down the House, Franz Ferdinand : Fire.... I would continue, but I
suspect where you see this is going... My people, I warn you, the ipods are up to something... So sleep with one eye open. And know that the next time you're listening to your ipod and Disco Inferno comes on, check the toaster."

She is such a wit!

Well, anyway, now I must go and prepare an overall plan for my weekend. There will be a concert, a spring fashion show, a business call, and a photo opp to aid my friend in a portfolio for her photography business. It will fly by I'm sure, but I figure I might as well get a head start on things, if the only carnivorous beast that is going to swallow me whole is time.

Have a good weekend!

Filed in personal diegesis

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Christian Peacemakers Freed

My brothers James, Harmeet and Norman are free after four months as hostages. It was a nice piece of news after not knowing for so long. As is fitting of a Christian Peacemaker's Team, no shot was fired and no one was injured in the rescue of these three, who were found in an unguarded home in Iraq. I admire non-violent intervention because it shows that power is not about might. Safety can come in trusting when often we are taught to distrust, to get the upper hand, at any cost.

They are all in good condition and good spirits although they have lost significant weight. Unfortunately Tom Fox was not among them. His body was found just days after the last tape showing the other three was aired. He was presumably killed by his captors, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, who originally said they would kill them all earlier if Iraqi prisoners were not released, so I suppose as far as terrorists go they were relatively merciful.

It seems that everyone and anyone is a target in Iraq. Tensions are high. They would be. I've considered that it would be unsafe for troops to leave Iraq at this point, so I thought it was the "responsible" thing for them stay now. However, I've changed my mind about any rationale for US troops being there at all. If intentionally sending people to kill on a mass scale is responsible just for the sake of upholding a previously illegal, short-sighted and immoral principle, then I'm a Jesus Christ lizard. So it was reassuring that there was a show of people protesting the war on its third anniversary. Everyone's sick of hearing about it, but at least we still have the gusto to disagree. One day was stupid, but three years is far too long, so it's even more important that we keep the pressure on our "leaders" now, until their support for prejudice and hate collapses. Give it up. Why do warring nations feel the need to treat a country as a hostage to its own democracy? They will recruit and train more and more Iraqis as security forces, but this just reaffirms the dependence on coalition forces and the military model. Hardly any of the Iraqi forces can operate their own missions. Even with a sustained effort though, this wouldn't change. It is simply a lie to suggest the military is providing security and I imagine Iraqis would more easily be able to elect a government democratically if there wasn't regimentalized violence going on around them, nevermind the traffic of illegal arms which is an inevitable part of any war. Bush and the acting prime minister of Iraq can argue whether there is a civil war going on or not and whether they've contained it or incited it, Bush will always deny anything that suggests his plans aren't working but until he does something to reduce US involvement in the midst of that war, until he shows signs of being able to reconsider ideas and react to the reality of the situation, to turn up the volume on diplomacy and turn the volume down on cowboy stunts, it will not be identifiable or solvable and that is a shame. Do you expect a legacy of American president's and Canadian prime ministers committed to exporting soldiers for battle in sustained wars? If so, what is the benefit?

Filed under General Announcements
and Opinions

Powered by a New Provincial Energy Plan

Premier Dalton McGuinty reviewed why renewable energy is economically feasible for Ontario as he listened to David Suzuki speak at Photowatt Technologies in Cambridge on Tuesday about the plan they hope will boost renewable energy for the province. The host of The Nature of Things, advocate for forestry and sustainable environment and a childhood hero to many Canadians like McGuinty and myself said the plan is “a great cause for celebration” amongst environmentalists. Finally people can get some credit for being a steward of the earth, literally.

McGuity is offering subsidies as incentive to any resident willing to try their hand at renewable energy like biogas, wind, or solar power. Farmers and community groups will be able to sell their energy to the Ontario Power Authority and hopefully this will spark investment in alternative energy, which will hopefully become the dominant form of energy in Canada, like it is in parts of Europe like Germany, who is a leader in wind power. This plan should make Ontario a star supporter of renewable energy in North America, ahead of California.

Canada is in an embarrassing situation about our current management of air quality and energy production, as Barry Smit, a University of Guelph geology professor well knows. After coming back from a 10 day UN Climate Change conference in Montreal back in November. “People almost laughed (at Canadians). Canada was supposed to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions by six per cent, but we’re up 24 per cent”[1] At the time we were blasting the US for not signing the accord even though they had done far more than we had to reach its goals. We were supposed to reduce the levels compared to what they were in the 90’s, but instead they’ve increased significantly. I remember jackhammering in humid plus 30C degree weather last summer during a smog warning, wearing an air mask and sweating like crazy. We didn’t stop working during smog warnings because if we did, we’d never work. After that came the warmest recorded winter in over six decades, which was 4C degree warmer on average, according to Environment Canada. So you could say we’re feeling the results of global warming.

Currently our coal-fired factories cause a lot of smog. Most farmers think what comes out of the back ends of their livestock is “waste” and the only propellers we’re used to seeing are the ones we get a glimpse of while stuck in a traffic jams near the Toronto lakeshore. It’s a start. We could be seeing a lot more solar panels, wind turbines and jobs. If we don’t get enough energy, the province will go ahead with costly and potentially devastating plans to build more nuclear power plants which would be disappointing. Instead, let’s take up this opportunity to create a better environment for our children. The goal is to have 10 per cent of our energy come from renewable energy by 2020. The standard offer program that he introduced will give 11 cents per kilowatt hour for wind, biogas or hydroelectric sources and 42 cents per kilowatt hour for solar energy.

Even though the new federal Conservative government hasn’t completely abandoned the Kyoto Protocal, which was the goal of reducing green-house gas emissions by 2012, Stephen Harper says it’s too late to achieve that goal. I don’t blame him. He’s not a magician. On March 14, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose suggested we should create a plan that also includes water and soil quality as well as air quality and she is drafting the Clean Air Act. Although there was some mention of working with Asian countries on some partnership to develop renewable energy technology, the Clean Air Act doesn’t even target green house gases. We obviously need reforms in all areas of pollution but we shouldn’t let different systems of measurement and complex legislation distract us from the focus of our problems and we need action today, not more plans for some indeterminate future. The federal government should coordinate the country so that there are financial rewards to other provinces for clean energy. So far it appears the provincial government has had to step in to propose innovative solutions to environmental problems that federal government is reluctant to specifically address.

I’m glad to see that McGuinty has decided to take the advice of a respected environmentalist like Suzuki who has shown his commitment to the longevity of our national wildlife through the work of his foundation, rather than an economist whose scheme only forecasts infinite growth, without a realistic calculation of global resources.

Photowatt sees itself getting busy in the next ten years as it expands its services to install more solar panels on buildings and homes. While it may be initially costly, you could pay back the installation costs of solar panels within a year, and then you are making profit for years to come. Previously it often seemed too expensive get solar panels installed, but now with this program, people should be walking on sunshine.

[1] Konieczna, Magda “UN Sessions Stymied by Lack of Leadership” Guelph Mercury, Dec 7, 2005; pg. A3

Filed under Environment

Monday, March 20, 2006

Tim Horton's Goes Public

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Now investors will be able to own a piece of their doughnut, and eat it too. Tim Horton's, a national icon of our coffee-guzzling, bagel cream-cheese spreading culture, went on the New York and Toronto Stock Exchange today as a publicly traded company.

If you've ever been to Canada, you'll know the coffee shop well. It's a place where you can go to get a nice warm beverage to buffer yourself against the harsh snowy climate, or bulk up on some chili, bagels and doughnuts. They are on every block, over 2000 of them! Connected to gas stations, basically cornering you wherever you go. Tim Horton's commercials glorify their connection to Canadianism, often featuring heart-warming stories about the little hockey players of the future or father and son bonding sessions, and this is what people appreciate. It's not just a cup of coffee, it's sentimental value. I've always hated the music they play on the commercials -accoustic guitar, somewhat reminiscent of the music you might hear on Corner Gas or Dr.Phil.

It's funny how Tim Horton's is a Canadian icon, but most of its investors will be Americans. Just recently, after much persuading by our soldiers in Afghanistan, Tim Horton's agreed to set itself up in Kandahar. The Americans got their Pizza Pizza and their Burger King in the land of jihad, Canadian soldiers wanted a little something of their own too. Talk about something familiar in the foreign. Will the Tim Horton diaspora dilute it's national identity? Will it help our peace keepers spread goodwill? Will turning it into a publicly traded company turn it into a faceless corporation? Will it just help the rich get richer? It's actually owned by Wendy's. Speaking of Wendy's, this happened last year: check out what this couple was willing do for some extra cash!
Once it was a modest burger joint, then that didn't work, so it switched over to coffee and doughnuts. There's an urban legend that they put trace amounts of nicotene to make the coffee addiction. I think the sugar's enough to do it. Near Christmas time, they still print the story on the cup about some couple met over a cup of coffee and lived happily ever after. That was the old days -the days when Tim Horton's was still run by Tim's folks, hockey player that made the name. When the American Krispy Kreme was introduced to Ontario this last year, it didn't do as well as expected. I guess you could say the market was a little saturated?

Some people like my dad, hate Tim Hortons with a seething passion. He says they are the biggest source of pollution around. It's true, when I go jogging, there are two things that line the roads: dead ground hogs, and Tim Horton's coffee cups! People admire Tim Horton's for their entrepreneurialship, others call it encroachment. Their support of the community is admirable -they sponsor kids to go to camp or teams to play hockey and soccer, but then there are always idling cars full of lazy arses waiting outside each Tim Horton's and when people are done chugging, they start chucking -wrappers, bags, cups UGH! An old friend who visited Canada from abroad was instantly sceptical or at least uncomfortably uncertain: "I don't know about all these Tim Horton's" she said.

Whatever you think about Tim Horton's, the business is growing, like a lochness monster stretching its tentacles around the globe. Perhaps it will inspire Afghanis to crave 'double doubles' or cause children to war over the 'rrrroll up the rim to win' prizes that they find routing through dumpsters for cups. Perhaps it will cheer the terror-torn hearts of our soldiers abroad with nationalistic nostalgia. Well, if I may, I'll put in my little timbit: investors shouldn't be too overenthusiastic about results. Rapid expansion can bring about instability. On the other hand, could this be the time to strike it rich off the coffee stocks? Only Timmy knows.

Filed under Opinions

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Exercise your Democratic Right!

Since no one seems to be voting on my latest poll yet, I thought I'd explicitly make an announcement calling your attention to the polls that I post on the righter-most column of my blog, under the drop-down menu. These polls will change from time to time, allowing you to be presented with new questions, moral dilemmas and tough choices on a regular basis. It was my intention to make this blog more interactive and assess the opinions of my readers out there. I know that you all have opinions, so please express them with your click! It takes just a moment, and you are doing me a favour by providing hard data for me.

Thanks for all of you who have voted in the past.

Filed under General Announcements

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Things Around the Office

I forgot to take my lunch, so I treated myself to a bagel and coffee on the way to work. Then my partners in global governance innovation started it off with a 9am sharp meeting to discuss our annual community event. Lots of planning goes into an event of this size -what theme to use, what to have as giveaways, invitations, keynote speakers, costs, flying people in from all over the world and who's in charge of what. My CIO is a quick-witted bloke who excels at brainstorming sessions. From his mouth emanates a constant flow of information, ideas and suggestions on how we should go about getting things done, and how they should be done as to avoid as much confusion as possible. Plus, he is a good manager and a good delegater. He knows everything that goes on in the organization top to bottom. It's a matter of talking fast enough so that he can maintain the input-output equilibrium. He has a stressball with a transparent gooey shell that makes red liquid splash around inside it when you squeeze it. I find it appropriate for him. He is light-humored and sane but I think that he has enough stress that if he didn't vent, his head would pop and his brains would squish like that.

As we left the meeting I half jokingly commented on the privilege our Event's Coordinator has in being responsible for the milestone chart, which delineates the progress of the group. "Do you use a special program for that or something?" I asked. How naive I was, but after all, it is one of my personal ethics to be written on my contact card that I "always ask the important questions". Since I was so interested and she was so helpful, she took up the opportunity to show me all kinds of cool things you can do in Word. I use Word primarily as a word processing program. I had no clue about what you could do with AutoShapes -make text boxes, arrows, diagrams, etc. -all good stuff if you want to visually represent to dos along a timeline.

Learning opportunities abounded today! My boss had some press kits that she wanted put together. We didn't have any more of the prepared fact sheets about our partnerships so I raced the elevator to the first floor (taking the stairs) and delved into the tech department of our building looking for the graphic designer who I knew would be able to point me towards some glossy paper. As it turned out she was hoarding, well, not hoarding but sitting on them like they were an egg, well, not literally, -the last of the glossy paper!! Kindly, she asked me how many I needed, then like a mother rationing candy to a child, counted out fifty sheets of paper. Off to the photocopier!

The photocopier proved to be more of a complex machine than I had anticipated. I looked around all the sides of it, analyzed its function and made little beep beeps as I pushed the screen to peruse the copy options I had at my fingertips. I soon figured out that not only did I need to man the photocopier deftly, but I had to coordinate the print options of my computer as well. So I could be seen running back and forth between my office and the copy room to see if the one was influenced by the other. Is it working yet? I tried several things until I came to a pseudo dead end. When all else fails, ask a smart lady how to use the machine. Luckily, a kind researcher who is also intelligent, attractive, funny AND good with the copiers showed me how to do the manual feed, what the different trays were for and how you could trick the photocopier into thinking it had more ink when it was almost out. Man she's good! The best thing about these people at my work is that they actually like helping. She didn't sigh or stomp or call me a stupid despicable creature. Instead, she showed me the ropes then said "good luck!" After that point, a beautiful relationship blossomed between the photocopier and I. I haven't used it to its fullest potential, but I am well aware that it is capable of punching holes, printing on two sides and stapling my papers together for me. As its fan blew softly, I watched with delight how the papers shot out with such precision.

So then I got to spend some quality time in my office with my boss catching up from her absence yesterday and then we skipped over to the mall to grab some chicken for lunch. She went to Ottawa yesterday to meet with the heavy hitters of political media on parliament hill. We're talking CBC, CTV, The Hill Times, people like this. While she was there she Blackberried me and got me to send bio's so that she could prep for interviews to proposed appropriate story pitches. Speaking of Blackberries, we weren't so impressed to find the title "Give Africans the Blackberry -and they will do the job" as the headline of the article on our project (which actually involves a lot more than that). You may say it's just a title, but people read titles. They don't read articles. Even though you read titles, I doubt you're even reading this right now! Oh well. No biggie. You can't win them all. *wink*

My boss, the Media Relations Director, is stellar at her job and she loves it too. She's always coordinating people together, strategizing ahead of the game and making sure people know what they're doing -a very charming people person. It's a busy life with all the traveling and stress but after yesterday she said she accomplished her main goal which was to see her kids before they went to bed. I pictured them bolting up out of their beds in their pajamas at 10pm saying "Mommy, is that really you?" and then running in slow motion, arms outstretched, emotional music blaring, landing the hug, just like in the movies. I imagine it was sort of like that. My boss is cool.

Unfortunately I won't see her tomorrow. She's Irish, and tomorrow is her national holiday. She showed me a video of her daughter kicking up a storm doing Celtic dancing. In other words the place will be quite empty except for me, the researchers and the techies tomorrow. The Graphic Designer is going to Mexico. I'll have to work my magic and conspire with others to get some kits successfully courriered and information communicated. Five other people were missing today because of the flu! We're dropping like flies. Apparently one of the girls that I was supposed to meet with today was in a meeting yesterday when suddenly she turned green and had to grab the waste basket. Others have similar symptoms. The flu is going around like crazy. People were whipping out the sanitizer today I tell ya. We were afraid because one of our employees just came back from abroad and she's sick today, so we're worried she brought the avian flu (not really worried). Peculiarly, I haven't been hit yet, even though I met with patient number one just moments before the projection.

Well, I hope to keep on my feet and away from the reaper. If I can make it until tomorrow night than perhaps I'll drink something green and celebrate the eighth of me that's Irish. If that doesn't happen, I've finally worked a job that is actually fun. Put pennies on my eyes.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Filed under Personal Diegesis

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sometimes it's all about Just taking that First Step

and hoping that it's in the right direction.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Building a Global Village

Food doesn’t come out of computers. I’ve never seen a cell phone produce even a grain of rice. If you put a disk into your CD-Rom, your screen doesn’t spit out money to buy HIV/AIDS treatment. It would be nice, but you can’t use the Internet as a solution to extreme poverty. Or can you?

Perhaps we should reconsider our concept of wealth. Where does it come from? How is it achieved? How do communities become self-sustainable? What separates the 'haves' from the 'have-nots'? The answer is access to information. Now more than ever, developed countries need technology to make the leap into the Information Age. Without information we can overlook the value of the soil we stand on, or the water buried underneath. In a country where women typically spend the greater part of their day traveling to find water, it would be helpful to know that they didn’t need to travel at all. What if someone else in a similar community had the same problem and then they found that a simple pump worked? Information Communications Technologies (ICT’s) would save a lot of extra steps and transfer the required knowledge in less than a second.

At the 2000 United Nations Millennium Summit, world leaders got together to create a set of goals called the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) which had specific targets to combat extreme hunger, poverty, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and provide primary education to every child. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the UN realized that it would take a concerted effort on every front to achieve these goals. In response to this, the Centre for International Governance Innovation created the Millennium Development Villages Initiative. They chose 12 of the poorest countries to work towards the MDG’s by providing information communication technologies to link them, facilitating comprehensive, community-based, low-cost integrated rural development strategies. They have already seen great improvements in two of them: Kenya and Ethiopia, (click for more information) where the initiative has begun. Not even the most basic communication infrastructure existed before.

This is the premise behind the Millennium Research Village Initiative: use technology to integrate the world’s poorest areas surrounding the perimeter of Africa into a “knowledge network” to solve their most pressing problems. Working with the Earth Institute (EI), which comprises 800 of the world’s best scientists in interdisciplinary research at Columbia University, CIGI will help set up these channels of communication to achieve development. As a result, these countries will have access to the best source of information about agriculture, nutrition, health, energy, water and the environment and IT support. It will be ushered to them in multiple forms –from “old” ICT’s like radio and television which will speak to them in their own language and provide information on how to prevent diseases like HIV/AIDS to “new” ICT’s like wireless mobile technologies like Blackberries which can access IGLOO (an online research portal devoted to governance issues), regardless of their location. With these tools, the Millennium Development Villages can update each other on issues like farming techniques or implement low-cost interventions like bug nets, which prevent the spread of malaria. GIS systems can monitor illegal treatment of the environment or inform residents where the nearest water source is.

[Click here for a link to Millennium Villages Project]

Marshall McLuhan, one of my heroes and the man who coined the term “global village” before the Internet was even invented, foresaw media transforming the planet into a macrocosm of our bodies. If that’s true, then we need to connect the parts so that each one knows what the other is doing. After all, there is enough food to feed everyone in the world, but we have a problem with coordination. People in the poorest countries can’t afford to buy readily available food, and the infrastructure isn’t there for them to grow and supply it themselves. The same countries that are crippled by hunger are paralyzed by disease. So it’s obvious that you can’t solve one problem without solving them all. With ICT’s, you can create a network of virtual communities that have knowledge about the real world, allowing better efficiency and coordination to escape extreme poverty. In Kenya for example, they used better seeds, farming techniques and fertilizers to grow hybrid maize. The result was a 48% return on input costs and it had a dual purpose: 10% went to supplying food for the school meals program, which also worked as an incentive for education.

The reason this approach has been opted for is because information is power –if you hand out food aid today it will be gone tomorrow but if you build an infrastructure to provide knowledge on how to grow food, how to harvest water, how to prevent disease, what has worked and what hasn’t worked, that information can change people’s chances of surviving every day. If you are going to eradicate poverty, the first step is allowing people to survive. The idea is that knowledge will be retained in the system by people adding information as it becomes available. As a result, virtual intelligence will give birth to real development.

Filed under Opinions

Friday, March 10, 2006

Easy Poll Goes Down

...and with it my blog, momentarily.

It was pretty freaky man/woman. Just the kind of thing that would happen on a Friday in March (or anytime). I went to see my virtual sweetness (my blog) and she was all pale, white and woozy instead of being fortified, black and sophisticated. As it turned out, the server that housed my poll, which some of you were democratic and involved in your citizenship enough to vote on, went down. The URL that my blogger template code referred to was suspended, so it messed everything up! I thought I was ruined but alas, I have done me a little surgery on my code, excised the offending garble, and now things are back to normal.

I could use your help however, dear readers. Could someone please recommend a reliable, easy, free, polling service to me?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Frustrated with Murphy's Law

I've been applying for jobs every day after working 9-5. The dream of independence, of finally being finished school lives within me. I sometimes get responses, and then I find out the positions all hinge on me being available some day that I'm not. I sometimes get career alerts about starting my road to financial independence via some internet scam/work-from-home package. Then I want to hurt someone because if it's worked for so many before why not me? I should hope things work out. Today they just announced a 4 percent increase in tuition.

Remember the tree I loved so well? I spent hours splitting the wood. Someone stole it all. I suppose I shouldn't have left it in a pile facing the road.

I worked on my songs so that they would be perfectly ready to record. Now my computer won't register my microphone no matter what I do.

I wrote an excellent article that my mentor really liked. It was a ghost article about someone else's project. It got me excited. It got me heated. I had a passionate opinion and I wrote persuasively about it to the best of my ability, throwing in some humour. The article was supposed to be an opinion editorial after all. Then two other people took it upon themselves to re-write it. Each one individually. Without an opinion. Their articles were very informative. And bland. They had no feedback for me. Today the article was supposed to be submitted to the local paper but it wasn't ready because those two were still messing with it. Apparently they figured out that their articles should be the length that my article originally was. Perhaps I should have told them that. I'm sorry they wasted their time becoming so involved with something I was happy with.

Nothing really seems to matter right now though in a good way or a bad way. I am sitting comfortably at home and I have absolutely no homework due tomorrow. In general things are quite good. No traumas recently, just silly little things. I am a pessimist and then I am an optimist and then I wonder if I can trust myself to feel. Faith is such an ellusive thing. When my hopes get up then something hilariously dreadful often happens. I think each time it proves that while the tests get harder, the results at least are a little different.

Speaking of tests, remember this? We had another little reminder, a reassuring/creepy little Al-Jazeera broadcast today. My brothers Harmeet, Jim, and Norman are apparently still alive. Where's Tom though? Yo Tommyboy! Harmeet's got a great look going on. He looks like Snoop. I really hope the cameramen are just playing mind games and that once the cameras are turned off Tom is the one yelling "CUT!" and then the Swords of Righteousness Brigade are the ones giving them credit on their convincing performance and then they are allowed to have a card game and drink some fresh coffee or resume their fussball game. When things don't all work the right way you've just got to hold on, and the Christian Peacemaker's Team's family is an example of that. If I don't have faith in all things all the time, right now I have faith that these Christians are safe with the enemy, unlike those who go looking for enemies because they are unsafe with themselves. I could be wrong though. Good things happen to bad people and sometimes the good die young.

C'mon luck. Don't give up on me now. If this doesn't get resolved, I don't graduate. I'm so close...

filed under Personal Diegesis

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Working While you Strike -La la la la la la la!

When my mother was a little girl, her parents took away one of her privileges to discipline her for something she did. She was so angry that she vowed to make them pay. In protest, she gave up sleeping in her bed and lied on the floor beside her parent's bed. According to her logic, they would feel guilty for punishing her and give her back her privileges. She was going to teach them a lesson. Well, it didn't work. No parent can show their children a good example by falling prey to their childish behaviour. My grandparents certainly weren't going to do that! In the same vein, I find most strikes childish. Although they are much more effective than confrontation, they can also be unnecessarily disruptive.

This week, most of my fellow students have been sitting at home while our instructors strut their stuff along the picket line. Yes, our college faculty is on strike. They have a problem with being teachers under the conditions that they teach. When they are satisfied with the pay then they aren't satisfied with the schedule and when they're satisfied with the schedule, they can still find something sour to chew on.

Not all of them are this way of course. My teachers have informed us that they will do everything they can to get us graduated after calling us their own for these past two years. (Now I'm marking them!) However, based on the contract, when the union strikes, they must strike or face high monetary penalties. Union's used to be the poor man's liberation. Back during Rockefeller's day it was the strikes that finally got workers fair treatment. I'm sick of strikes for greedy reasons though -the NHL last year, more recently the municipal workers. It really messes up our productivity!! Now unions just seem to punish everyone.

Most of my education years have been plagued by strikes. Luckily it's never held me back before. My college has been rated the number one college in my province for the past seven years, but what kind of college holds you back from finishing your program on time? The fun twist in things is that I am out of the teacher's jurisdiction this time. I'm on co-op placement. Nothing they can say or do will affect me. I guess they won't be teaching me a lesson! Ha!

If you want something to strike about, my suggestion is: make it good. Gandhi was the king of non-violent resistance. When the Hindus and Muslims would fight, he fasted. One day he asked everyone to strike against the British, and they did. This disrupted the mail system, trade, everything. He made a point that the people of India were collectively stronger than their occupiers. Now that Bush is cozying up to Singh, pushing to set India up with nuclear power, it might be an appropriate time to protest that. Sure, energy is a valuable commodity, but could Bush's motivation be anything other than to fuel a war effort against China if it is to allow India to build twenty-two new nuclear reactors unregulated by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?

India is not a NPT member. Since the tension began with Pakistan in 1999, they've been a nuclear state although they claim to be on a no-strike first basis. It doesn't make me feel more comfortable when a state that has the power to annihilate the planet says it will only do so after someone else has made that decision. That's MADD. That makes everyone hover over the trigger. But the difference between Iran and India is that India didn't call for Israel to be wiped off the map and secondly, it has 31 percent of the world's radioactive material. So why not let them have a gander at increased military clout?

While the US might be violating Article I of the Nonproliferation Treaty by giving India further nuclear capability, their proposed aim in aligning with India is to ensure that India doesn't market its weapons to the rest of the world. Still, this doesn't look good, considering that only some of the nuclear reactors are going to be monitored by the UN. To me, it looks like one of Rumsfeld's "projects"

But anyway, enough about world annihilation. March 8 is International Women's Day! Since I like women, I'm celebrating too. Women have done so many things that men have never done. There are countless examples of women heroines from Queen Elizabeth, Jane Goodall, Margaret Cavendish, to Tori Amos and Cindy Klassen, who won five medals this year, or a quarter of our Olympic medals this year!! This day serves as a chance to recognize the advances women have made in society as well as to recognize the instances that women have been victimized, such as the Montreal massacre, where 14 young women were killed just because they aspired to learn.

In ancient Greece, Lysistrata used a sex strike to protest the war. That men enjoy sex was obviously never a secret. Now we're at war again. Protest away ladies. I don't have a girlfriend. Again I'm invincible!! Well, there are other ways to get my attention. This summer, women in Iran protested veils. With all the politicization of Islam this year: the Hamas election, the political cartoon, etc. Islam is on the global mind. On the European runways, the recent trends in drapey, sober women's apparel got someone to describe it as the "Muslimization of fashion". It would be nice to see women relate on gender if not politics, race or religion. If I was a girl, I'd have a slumber party or something. Mary Wortley Montagu argued that veils empowered a woman in her situation, traveling in the 18th C. In England, she would be harassed any where she went. In Turkey where she was veiled like all other women, she had safety in anonymity. It seems however, over a hundred years later, that the Western world looks at veils as repressive. It is ironic that our fashion would now be embracing subtle forms of it. It is interesting to see how women's roles influence our perception of religious and racial roles which in turn define our sense of self.

When we break away from the collective to teach others a lesson, we must remember that we are the mirror image, the counterpart. We are like Gestalt images: only making sense in part from the whole.

Filed in Politics + Personal Diegesis + Philosophy

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Has Winter Thrown in the Towel?

Signs of spring are all around. Ice is thawing. Sun is shining. My dog is basking in it. Trees are emitting pheromones. I can almost smell it. The Rite of Spring is an appropriate song to play in my head. Occasionally, it will make a transition into Four Seasons with one particular season in mind.

Soon I'll be able to bike safely again and jog and feel the happy rays of Helios.

The problem with all this warm weather is that it's not supposed to be this warm. In terms of national perhaps global weather, it stays warmer longer. The cold weather doesn't kill off the Mountain Pine Beetle like it used to. These beetles can emit a fungus that strangles off the trees water supply. As a result, Canadian pine trees have been dying faster than the lumberjacks can even process them! The brown trees are the dead ones. If you saw Brokeback Mountain, they hid them well but you might have seen some rusty brown trees like these because it was shot in Alberta, where the epidemic is taking place (as well as British Columbia).

There are of course some benefits from natural disasters. Economists will always look at the opportunities in catastrophes. Since the ice caps have been melting shippers are hopeful that the Northwest passage will open up as a commercially plausible route. While many explorers have tried it in the past, they've gotten stuck between an iceberg and a hard place. Now that temperatures are rising, the route is accessible for longer periods of the year. The route has been taken advantage of in the past by foreign ships trying to sneak through. With Stephen Harper as prime minister, maybe we'll get tough and build up our navy.

This last week Paul McCartney and wife Heather came to protest the seal hunts that go on out in Newfoundland. If it was colder they might have taken a sled, but instead, they took a helicopter. If Canada has one sensational animal scandal, the seal hunts are it. Every year I hear about them. However, the cute little seal pup that they are posing with WON'T die (US Humane Society was ill-informed). Killing seal pups has been illegal since 1987. Only the ones who are eight weeks or more who's coat has turned black get clubbed and gouged with boat-hooks until their blood comes spraying out.

"I am the eggman. I am the walrus. Goo-goo-ga-chube!" Maybe Paul is a seal too.

Somehow, sitting here in my comfortable home eating pasturized ice-cream, there doesn't seem to be anything sacred about bludgeoning an animal to death, especially if it's done for money and not survival. It certainly isn't cute. However, I can't really condemn an Inuit for hunting seals. It's not like they can just choose to go vegan. Plus, eating seal blubber is a great way to keep warm, to make candles, and to have on hand for celebrations. So if you feel sad about seal genocide, light a candle?

The environment is precious, and we all have varying sense of protectiveness towards it. I think the important thing about engaging the environment is to appreciate what we have left of it. I can't wait for patios to open up and to be able to sit out on a lawn chair reading a good tome. Even though the winter seemed long, it was very mild. The bitter winds that there were will help me appreciate the summer. In the meantime, I'm ready for spring.

Filed under Environment

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Watching Movies, Having Relationship Problems and Really Digging my New Job

"How are you...Mrs. Darcy?...Mrs. Darcy *kiss*"

The end of Pride and Prejudice, starring the gorgeous (check out her biters!) Keira Knightly, finishes with Mr.Darcy repeating Elizabeth's new last name. He asks her what he should call her when he's angry at her, when he's mad about her, when he's quizzicle. She tells him to call her Mrs.Darcy only when he is truly happy, so he says it a million times. The "torment" he's endured loving her has finally come together in a marriage.

You've got to appreciate this movie for the glimpse of the whole family that it offers, the beautiful scenery, and the colourful personalities: little flirty Lydia, who's just a girl excited about the possibilities of life, Mary, the reserved and unsure middle child, and Mary, the watchful, thoughtful and shyly beautiful older sister, whose romantic success and failure act as a foreshadowing and evaluation for the values of the movie at the outset. When she finally decides upon the man, and he comes to terms with the woman being the one in the ultimate position to accept or deny the request, they marry happily.

It is a story about how important relationships are, especially in the era when Jane Austin wrote the novel. Having four sisters, I related to the wonderful way the sisters were portrayed as close friends, vying for each others struggles, primping eachother, gossiping and wanting to know every detail of eachother's lives. Marriage wasn't always about love, as the one sensible but unromantic sister proves, by marrying the silly though practical pastor. It could be a dangerous prospect. Women's whole lives were focused around solidifying an arrangement that would keep them safe, if not happy, but this main character, Elizabeth "Lizzy", will not settle for the flowery worded though idiotic man that her sister later does. Her quick wit and strong will lead her bear out Mr.Darcy, the seemingly arrogant rich man who she comes to love through his kindness and devotion to her, proving his valiance. He is the dark brooding type, and she is someone who will say what she thinks, while being playful enough to nurture him out of his aristocratic shell.

So I liked the movie a lot. It was a nice way to end a good day. I love my job. People are nice, I feel appreciated, and I'm exposed to so many interesting things. Most of today I spent plugging away at an article which talks about a very exciting initiative. I did research, blew the dust off my draft from yesterday and increased it from 400 to 900 words, then rearranged the sentences, put in an attention-grabbing intro and tightened it up again, bringing it back to 800.

Today was also the anniversary of the banning of landmines internationally. I had the pleasure of spending some time in the same room as Lloyd Axworthy, who is now president of the University of Winnepeg, but had a long career in politics, advancing several UN agenda's including the ban of landmines in 1999. Landmines really seem to be a symbol of how senseless and hellish war is. One day you're tilling a field and then BOOM! You can never walk again, or maybe you never take another breath. This is a very good reason to have a dinner party. Every hour a landmine changes or ends someone's life somewhere in the world, often a woman or child. I feel lucky to be in a place where I don't have to worry about such dangers. In some places, bombs are disguised as toys that children want to play with.

My band is most likely having a break-up. At this time I don't know how I feel about it, but I'm not as devastated as I've been over losing a girl. I've never been good at long-term relationships, and this one just kinda feel apart, even as I fought for it. I missed last practice and while I was gone an argument flared up. It wasn't the first. We're still having one more practice tomorrow, kind of like for old time sake. Have you ever gone out with an ex, just because you know that you liked being around them and are used to that, but then when you're there you're not sure what to do or how to act? It might be a bit like that, only, we're going to focus on the music. Maybe it was never meant to be. It could have been a beautiful thing. Maybe it will give birth to something else.

Tomorrow is Dr. Seuss's birthday. Since yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, maybe tomorrow I'll have green eggs and ham.

Oh, and the word of the day is moribund, because if I don't go to sleep soon, I feel like I'm going to die.


Posted as Personal Diegesis
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