Wednesday, 16 January 2013


     There is something supernal about David Draiman's voice.  He's like a surrogate god indemnifying foreign powers, the red-tipped scream which ripped the world in two, a both incisive and subtle show of vocal power and prowess.  Troops going into combat listen to David Draiman, lead vocalist of Disturbed, for the same reason that soldiers of some ancient era prayed to their gods before charging.  He brings the same terrifying power to music that Dostoevsky brought to literature, a message powerful and proud in its simplicity; I know prison.  I know power.  And come with me, because I can help you beat both with the other.  If the world is a box within a box, Dave Draiman's the guy opening the gift.
    I've been a Disturbed disciple since late 2006.  In fact, I'm the sort of guy who played the "Ten Thousand Fists" record every day (sometimes several times a day) for a year.  I'm also the sort of guy who bought about four copies of "Asylum" because I wanted to be sure to have one with me everywhere I go.  It's like the release of every Disturbed CD marked an epoch, a new era, in my life.
    In 2006, Draiman told me that I had the oomph to finish what I started; both high school and my first ever novelette.  In 2008, he told me that I had unfathomable potential untapped by the job I was then working or the degree I was fruitlessly inching towards or the girl I was chasing or the parents I was still trying to placate.  In 2010, when I royally fucked up and pretty well dropped out of the common grind, Dave told me he understood.  He told me to prepare myself for a year of ghosts, to learn to fight fire with gasoline, to birth a literal hell in my mind and learn how to fight it in its own terms.
    I'm told that many people view their favorite musicians as 'parental' figures, but this was never true for me.  Dave was my comrade-in-arms, not despite the fact that we couldn't have known less about each other but precisely because of that fact.  I've learned that some realities of solipsism can't be beat.  No matter how real your intentions, or how earnest your heart, or unsullied your ideals, good luck ever trying to have a 'real' conversation with somebody else.  Nobody can ever really *know* somebody else, in most cases, but it is possible to dispense with the pretense, sit back, and learn.  That's what Disturbed has been for me.
    Dave's message to me has always been one of eternal struggle, of vindication, of discretion.  He makes me look for the subtle worlds in things, the clandestine potential beneath a veneer of struggle.  It's like the 1885 painting "The Fog Warning," by Winslow Homer.  It shows an old man in a rowboat struggling through a storm into an approaching fog.  The storm represents discord, the eternal nemesis, but beneath it are depths unfathomed.
    Disturbed's last compilation was 2010's "Asylum," the group's most thematically diverse and teeth-rattling sonic landmine since pretty well ever.  I interpreted every track on it in a personal spirit.  The intro, "Remnants," was to me a discordant melody, a lament which becomes an avowal to grimace forward through the depths of isolation and insanity.  It's an instrumental equation, the first time ever that Disturbed has released a non-vocal track on a commercial CD.  It was originally meant to be the first part of the title track, "Asylum."  The seven-minute title got split into two songs, to be more expedient for radio airtime.
    The "Asylum" single is a caustic, masochistic shout of duality.  Dave discussed the song in an interview as representative of two things; a place of refuge, and a place of torment.  Absolutely everything about my own life at that in my mother's home, my failed relationship, my aborted dreams, the inchoate novel which I was trying to exhort into being...all seemed both things that I sought solace in and used as cudgels to bludgeon myself.  It also contained a mixed premonition, that of the physical 'asylum' which I would commit myself to before the next year was out.
    "The Infection," the CD's third track, was Dan Donegan's magnum opus to date.  The guitar riffs and transitions are like Metallica off the chain.  Listening to that song feels like extricating a dark succubus from your heart and soul with violent upheavals, then finding out that the succubus was your shadow and the best part of you all along.  It speaks of confinement (Danny himself does backup vocals, for the first time in awhile; fuckin' A, man).  You get the sense of suffering injected into a greater pattern.  It tells you "you're in pain, but this has meaning," and pulls absolutely no punches.  It inures you against doubt.
    Another thing really interesting to note about Disturbed is the surprising lack of profanity in their songs.  They swear all of once on the entire CD, and I'm quite sure that you can count the number of swear words in their entire catalog on one hand.  Danny swears once in "The Infection," but it's like a focal point, a flood tide of repressed self-loathing.  It's catharsis.  It's like a magnifying glass used to refract the sun.  This is what your grade 10 English teacher meant when he said that profanity can sometimes be constructive in writing.  Far too many bands use profanity to supplant lyrical ingenuity, which stopped being 'cool' around my 15th birthday.  Danny whispers the word in question.  It's like he doesn't have to speak loud to petrify you, like he's tipping over a row of dominoes, a house of cards, with a whisper.
    "Warrior" is Disturbed's token tribute to the soldiers overseas, meant in the same spirit as the title track "Indestructible" from a previous CD.  But, it was much more than that for me.  "Warrior" was a response and repudiation to the hopelessness of "The Infection."  It says that, no matter who you are or how futile your bleakest rage, you are not inutile.  You can fight, you can take place in a struggle, be it internal or external, and find meaning there.  But it's the thick of the fight.  It's losing yourself, not necessarily closure.  It reminds you of your own potential, reminds you that you have your own power; for good or evil, the choice is yours.  It convinces you that you have your pride, your honor, and will have a right to them always.  It tells you that nothing can ever take them away from you, that you are the only person able to strip yourself of this.
    "Another Way To Die" goes on in the opposite vein.  Though written as a song about the environment and human negligence, a rallying cry for 'environmentalists' everywhere, I chose to see it as a forfeiture of martyrdom in a solipsistic world.  Meaning, no matter what you do, how hard you fight, you need to be critical-minded and know that, sooner or later, you will die.  It's a very 'blank slate' song, meaning that it's neither optimistic or pessimistic.  It doesn't say, "well, you're going to die, so have fun while you can," or "you're going to die, nothing means shit, get out now."  It just reminds you of death, tells you how dangerous consumerism is in the sense that it has made all the world *your* world.  It literally makes *you* the world and says you're in imminent danger of ending because of something that you really ought to have seen coming.  It doesn't day die, or live, it just says think.  Where "Warrior" snarled about action, "Another Way To Die" gives you a conscience.  It gives you responsibility.  This was the first single publicly released before the CD, and it's sort of like a microcosm of "Remnants/Asylum."  There's a long, instrumental intro, and, just when you're convinced that the tempo won't pick up, it does.  To me, this was like the spark of inspiration.  You can sit around for hours with incoherent thoughts rambling together, and, just when you're least expecting it, it all coheres, falls together in a way which seems either brilliant to you and opaque to others, brilliant to others and an incidental puzzle for you which leaves you feeling phony, or, if you happen to be really lucky and/or really talented, both.
    "Never Again" is a song about the Holocaust.  It tells of privation, about dehumanization, about endings, about being crushed down to dust and then rising again.  Dave had a grandmother who survived Auschwitz.  She got lined up several times to enter a gas chamber, but would crawl to the back of the line each time and somehow got saved.  It's about surviving in the face of ultimate and indomitable odds.
    "The Animal" is the depths of fear.  It's about losing yourself in a Dantean forest, a place where you forfeit control and become something feral, predatory, self-harming.  It's about raising your hand, your own hand, and not knowing whether it will pull you up out of the darkness or destroy you.  It's about having no friends, no way of telling the difference between light and dark, no knowledge of death as anything other than the Great Sleep or relief, about being awake all night and losing the right to tomorrow.  
    "Crucified" hit home for me because it had the same name as a soubriquet I once used, "CruciFied."  To me, it was a song of lost love, of making someone 'blind' to the obvious and, ironically, finding both the path of redemption and damnation in the infliction of this blindness.  Much of it is a soft lament, but the final reverse is a hard-hitting throwback to "The Sickness," Disturbed's first CD.  It tells you that you will outlive the most morbidly indelible of passions, the most morose obsessions.  You die, seemingly, a part of you dies never to rise again, but you will be a revenant, resurrected, stronger for the experience.
    "My Child" is a song of moral recidivism, of lapsing back into temptation, preparing to deal with the consequences of that temptation, and, ultimately, forgiveness.  It teaches you what it's like to have something just long enough to miss it.  It's about phantom pains.
    "Serpentine" says that you can make the same mistakes twice, but that's okay, it's part of being human.  Like "The Infection," it's about a failed relationship.  Recidivism is human, Dave says, and any sort of 'relationship,' whether it be personal, professional, or spiritual, will always be a risk.  It's about moving on, getting thrown on your ass again, and putting the struggle into perspective.  It's about patterns, about learning from them and finding meaning from them.
    "Sacrifice" is, again, about duality, about a dichotomy between control, whether feigned or real, and loss of it.  It's about vacillations between humanity and not, between love and apathy (which is the real opposite of love, not hate), between learning how to take control of yourself vs. not.  It's about knowing that some things will always be part of your potential, will have to be fought and subdued at every turn.
    "Innocence" is, as Dave said, about lawyers and the clients which they choose to defend.  It was about how both parties can be corrupt to the hilt, etc.  This meant something for me because the man who I lost my 'romantic interest' to in 2010 was a 63 year old lawyer and multi-millionaire about as corrupt as they come.  It was like being a kid again, with my father towering over me, only in 2010 the mountain was really a molehill and made of money.  "Innocence" means that you can define and kill your gods if you have the prerequisite tools to do it.  It's a song about singling out the problem, condemning it, choosing a line in the sand, and moving forward. 
    "ISHWILF" is a remix of a U2 song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."  It was like a revival of childhood optimism, the perennial tomorrow.  It was like finding a berth in the storm, closure, a redemption.  Fight back, you're a real boy.
    I can't wait for the "Device" debut CD in April, which David is frontlining.  Hell of a year for IM.  Disturbed kept my soul in storage for me.  Thanks guys.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


"Is a man not entitled to the sweat off his own brow?  'No!' says the man in Washington, 'It belongs to the poor.' 'No!' says the man in the Vatican, 'It belongs to God.' 'No!' says the man in Moscow, 'It belongs to everyone.' I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose... Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, Where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well."
                                                                                                                     -Andrew Ryan, founder of 'Rapture'

           Let's just face it already; most teenagers will never read "Atlas Shrugged."  You'll always have the oddly prescient, horn-rimmed and girlfriendless product of locker-reamings and enough hazings to create a few major-league smog warnings who may peruse the hefty tome while considering how effective it might be as a bludgeon against bigger, gap-toothed, dull-eyed cronies.  So 2K Games just spared us all the trouble, and gave us a game which gives us the epitaph of Galt's Gulch; 2007's "Bioshock."
           Most of "Bioshock" takes place in the subaqueous city of Rapture.  Rapture is a metropolis falling somewhere between the Atlantis of ancient times and the Galt's Gulch of "Atlas Shrugged" infamy in terms of overall LULz.  The game takes place in the 1950s, several years after Rapture was founded by billionaire savant Andrew Ryan.  Ryan intended the city as a haven for Earth's best and brightest, a utopia where such polymaths could exist in collegial accord without the monkey-on-the-back burden of us hapless mortals whinging about tax hikes and long work days and irradiated babies.  
            Sounds good, right?  Unfortunately, the inhabitants of Rapture outwiled themselves when Holocaust survivor Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum creating something called ADAM in concert with malcontent Frank Fontaine.  ADAM were genetic enhancements which allowed people to manipulate elemental psychic powers like fire, wind, and water, known colloquially as 'plasmids.'  Fontaine mass-produced ADAM by implanting sea slugs (from which ADAM was derived) in the stomachs of five orphaned girls, known subsequently as 'Little Sisters' (basically Little Girl Zombies, known to proliferate cases of Serious Fucking Willies).  These Little Sisters pretty much get to spend their lives scampering around from corpse to corpse harvesting lots of ADAM.  They're protected by "Big Daddies," plasmid-enhanced humans in chemical-retardant suits whose sole raison d'etre is clomping around after the Little Sisters and zapping anything that tries to hurt them.
            Which includes you, the player.  See, the Little Sisters have been working overtime recently, excoriating lots of corpses, so the Big Daddies get royally pissed off and continually call the social services offices of all three countries which Ryan denounced, which the joke's on them because their vocabulators all sound like that guy with the really deep voice from "Jesus Christ Superstar" with a hangover.  All three nations are broke by this point because of Ryan's abdication, but eventually scrounge up enough money to send a social worker down by making Stephen Harper impersonate a hamster for Bill Gates.  Just kidding.  They actually send down a plasmid-enhanced ex-Marine beauty school dropout named Whappo to shut the Big Daddies up and save money on the phone bill.
            Close enough.  You play as a man named Jack, a marooned traveler whose plane crashes over the smouldering ruins of Rapture.  Looks like we're in deep shit, and no, the Little Sisters haven't even hit puberty yet.  
             As it turns out, ADAM is addictive.  Addictive, like, in a way which makes cigarettes look like the height of independent and healthy living.  ADAM distorts human DNA in a way that turns users nanners, transforming them into zombie ingrates called Splicers, all of whom want to chase you down and pump you for ADAM to feed their rapacious habit.  So now the Little Sisters have well-rounded role models to look up to.  Everyone goes home happy, right?  Not exactly, because Jack's still got no ride out, and he must fight his way through a splicer-infested dystopia peppered with metabolistically-enhanced bionic people brandishing little undead zombie gals at him.  
             The reason that the Little Sisters have been working overtime is because Fontaine (think Sylvester Stallone meets Rambo with a penchant for diving) launched an insurrection against Ryan, leaving one half of Rapture dead (including Fontaine himself) and the other half ADAM-dependent, deleterious husks of their formerly super-smart selves.  Lots of corpses means lots of happy Little Sisters, who get to harvest their daily quotas of ADAM many times over.  Christmas has come early for the poor little things.  
               I'm not focusing on Bioshock because of the graphics, or the sound, or the gameplay, all of which were superb and well worth the game's purchase price in of themselves.  No, I'm rhapsodizing about this particular game because it's the first title since "Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty" to really use the gaming medium as a way to make people think.  I actually know people who played through this game, then spent a month reading "Atlas Shrugged" to learn more about Rand's philosophy.  Most of "Bioshock" is an ostentatious tribute to Rand and her dystopian contemporaries,  like Orwell and Huxley. 
                The basic premise of “Atlas Shrugged” was that a group of lucrative tycoons and entrepreneurs, tired of the all-pervasive “People’s State” maxims which pervaded the outside world, created a small city and went on ‘strike’ from their former lives.  “Bioshock” shows us the cumulative outcome of this choice.  The game is part enigma, part conventional shooter.  It’s ultimately the gamer’s task to piece together what happened to this fallen city, how such a halcyon of industry could have become a haven of rapine drug addicts. 
                “Bioshock” brings Rand down to Earth in the sense that the founder of Rapture, Andrew Ryan (whose name is a semi-anagram of Rand’s) has a clearly definable hubris, whereas the John Galts and Francesco A’Anconias of “Atlas Shrugged” did not   Ironically, a lot of people miss just how supportive of the ‘common man’ Rand really was.  Many critics of objectivism postulate that Rand had a literary fetish for capitalist ‘supermen,’ people inexplicably above the rest of us.  But this was a literary device, not a literal prognostication.  The people who make these inferences are the same people who once said that the reason God hates black people is because one of Noah’s sons saw his father naked. 
                Rand was, in her own view, trying to supplant over 2000 years of ‘Platonic’ philosophy prating the inexplicable.  She believed in the integrity of human industry, in the importance and potential of human endeavour.  Every other niche in human ethics has its own ‘superhero.’  It’s best to think of the Howard Roarkes and Hank Rearden as just that; Platonic Forms, superheros, brought down to Earth.  Rand believed that people loved hearing about extraordinary people in very ordinary circumstances, as opposed to ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  In “Atlas Shrugged,” though, it’s unclear just what happens at the end, whether the ‘strikers’ return to the world or not.
                In “Bioshock,” they fail, just as everyone always predicted they would.  It’s like watching a superhero movie where the superhero dies at the end.  Its message is cryptic and ambivalent, somehow disjointed when seen with the totality of Objectivism 
                Andrew Ryan becomes a universal character, ironically, as a martyr, because he literally becomes a man with the weight of the ocean on his shoulders.  Alone at the bottom of the sea, with the revenant pioneers of a jeering world chasing their tails and munching on ADAM around him, one gets the sense of Alexander of Macedon on his deathbed, or Genghis Khan perishing in his tent, El Cid shot by one of Yusuf’s archers on the field of battle, or Hitler dying in the Fuhrerbunker.  We see a leader perishing among his extinct ideal.  We see a parent watching his child convulse on the ground and die in front of him, we see an atheist pray, we see a man gain everything he ever wanted, lose it, and then attain freedom through his chains.  We see a Raskolnikov.  We envision someone who imagined himself a great man, but turned out to be a false prophet.  We see the captain of Titanic, over 100 years ago today, going down with his ship.  Unfortunately, in this case, he doesn’t go easily, but gives you one hell of a boss battle and tries to make you Big Daddy chow throughout the game.  There is nothing quite like being pummelled by a colossal juggernaut and then crooned over by a zombie little girl who calls her hulking behemoth “Mr. Bubbles” to make you appreciate the small things in life.
                If you visit Rapture, bring me back a t-shirt.  I’ll need something to sell off my back if Ryan’s world order ever comes to pass.    

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Political compass...

1.  If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.

    'Humanity' here is an abstract pretext.  Most people don't know what is best for themselves, let alone others.  The imputation here is that, if speaking for the good of 'humanity' is usually the guise which charlatans hide behind, then I would rather err on the side of the devil that I do know.  So no, I would strongly disagree with this statement.  I understand the bottom line of corporations, and can thus fight accordingly; I can't understand some ambiguous notion of 'humanity.'

2.  I'd always support my country, whether it was right or wrong.

    Strongly agree.  Though Canada has its shortcomings, among which are a crippling deficit on both the provincial and federal level, a lack of jobs, an ineffectual and often annoying healthcare system, and a flawed infrastructure, I don't think that any other political system or national concept could do a better job.  If North America could be considered a 'family,' I see the U.S as the belligerent, albeit successful oldest brother which disowned its parents, Canada as the 'responsible,' magnanimous middle sibling which can nonetheless fight back when pissed off, and Mexico as the perpetually irresponsible youngest brother.  Canada is a great country, and I would never choose to live anywhere else.  I'm proud to be Canadian.  Strongly agree.

3.  No one chooses his or her country of birth, so it's foolish to be proud of it.

    Wrong!  If 'pride' were a matter of 'choice' and not based to some extent off of 'ascribed statuses,' then I don't see how there could be any dignity at all.  It's important to have a sense of national identity, though this like anything else can be taken too far and should never be gone about haphazardly.  Knowing your circumstances, accepting them, and utilizing them to your advantage is an integral part of being a human being.  Life can be a meritocracy in some places, but this isn't always an idyllic state and there will always be many glass ceilings.  Strongly disagree.

4.  Our race has many superior qualities, compared with other races.

    The 'white man's burden' at work?  I truthfully have little knowledge of other races.  All of my friends/family are white/caucasian.  Though I did live in a more racially eclectic place for a time, this was in the United States and was a suburban area, so it was much more of a melting pot.  I've read both "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "The Turner Diaries."  I've seen both caustic racism and 'political correctness' at their best and worst.  Neither works well when taken to its extremes.  I've known many white people (including myself, from time to time) who fall under the 'white trash' label.  Likewise, I've known racial minorities who fit many of the racial stereotypes proscribed by popular literature.  I agree with this, because it's never good to deride oneself towards the benefit of somebody who you don't even know.  I will never fully understand the tribulations that other races have endured over the ages, so it would be wrong of me to trivialize their struggle by saying that I 'strongly agree' with this.  Likewise, I will not efface myself for evils which I have never perpetrated.  I'm not a big fan of the whole "the sins of the fathers" deal.  I won't give a stranger something at the expense of myself and my loved ones.  So, I would have to settle with a diplomatic 'agree.'

5.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    Ephemerally.  If they can help me in a provisional sense, I will trust them sometimes, so long as I have something to hold over them later to keep them in line.  So, I'll tentatively disagree.

6.  .Military action that defies international law is sometimes justified.

    Strongly agree.  Circumscribing a national agenda to conform to international standards is one step closer to a unilateral police state.  Whoever dominates international political circles will be the people carrying the biggest sticks.  Whether this is ethical or not isn't up to me to decide.  I agreed with the American invasion of Iraq because yes, George W. Bush was a shameless looter and conceivably a war profiteer, but at least he was honest about it.  Right wingers tend to be brutally honest.  At least he stole from someone else's people, where Barack Obama has stolen from his own people through tax hikes and bailouts.  Arguing that there are other countries needing American intervention and aid *more* than Iraq doesn't hold water, either.  The 'WMD' propaganda may have been a fallacy, but the only sin I hold the Americans guilty for in that respect is bad PR.  A good government will always lie to its people, because it does the dirty jobs that nobody else will.  

7.  There is now a worrying fusion of information and entertainment.

    Yes, but it's good for both the economy and the private consumer.  Delineating what is 'information' v. 'what is entertainment' is very imprudent if you're raising a generation whose bread and butter is 'constructive games.'  This is the reality, so denying it is useless.  I think there's a huge pedagogical future in store for games, among other things.  Using popular mediums to educate is a singular tool, and doing otherwise is stupidity.  I feel that entertainment pervades schools too much...i.e you'll always have teachers trying to be students' 'friends,' which exists at both the secondary and post-secondary levels...but these are institutional flaws rather than conceptual ones.  They can be seen as the 'unwritten code' of life.
    I'm a very literate person, so my itinerary mostly centers around the 'fusion of entertainment' when it comes to literature.  If you find a book that does this and does it well, you'll always remember that book.  I've seen instances of incredibly smart/precocious people trying to write 'novels' with some intermittent pop savvyness thrown in for good measure, and the result is an information manual.  You can practically hear the author telling you that it's time for bed every five minutes.  I also think that there's a well-understood place in the world for 'pulp fiction.'  Stephen King makes a terrific argument for it in his memoir "On Writing."  He asserts that this is what a 'story' is, and I agree that something can be entertaining without a litany of specialized verbiage.  Don't give me a book that's also a movie script.
    Those of you who know me are probably sick of me trying to proselytize you, but an extraordinary folio of a book which creates equanimity between 'information' and 'entertainment' is David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest."  Hell of a book.  Just saying.  So, disagree.

8.  People are ultimately divided more by class than by nationality.

    Strongly disagree.  I'm in circumstances just about as straitened as they come, yet if I stint and save for long enough, I can take the love of my life to fancy places and not be judged at first sight (in terms of race, anyway).  People have deeply ingrained cognitive responses which will *always* discern between race, whether this be a simple observation (i.e "his eyes are blue" or "she is in a wheelchair") and which will, at least for the foreseeable future, create stigmas.  The reality is that I can and have rubbed shoulders with very wealthy people despite being somewhere around the poverty line myself.
    Few people aside from idiots are blatant 'racists' anymore, but political correctness has in practice driven racism 'underground' and created a backlash that will arguably be as strong in 50 years as the abolitionist movement was in the 1860s.  People are sick and tired of feeling like their every move is under scrutiny, terrified of walking on eggshells when it comes to saying anything at all to a visible minority.  So yes, for the time being, nationality is an ever-present, if hopefully not ineradicable, factor.

9.  Controlling inflation is more important than controlling unemployment.

    It really is an interchangeable idea, but, given the fact that the welfare state has made it easier for many people to subsist off of social assistance than find 'honest jobs,' I would say that controlling inflation is important so that everyone can afford basic standards of living.  Soaring price hikes are nobody's friend.

10.  "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is a fundamentally good idea.

  This impinges on human dignities, is impossible to regulate with current methodology, and works well on paper.  In truth, it places a tremendous burden on the highly proficient, perpetuates dependencies, and is just a lot of hardship for everybody.  Strongly disagree.

11.  Because corporations cannot be trusted to voluntarily protect the environment, they require regulation.

    This is internecine fear-mongering which just harms everybody.  I don't pretend to know what the 'common good' for everybody is.  I respect a corporation's right to do whatever the hell they want, so long as I possess the self-awareness and requisite skills necessary to fight back should I disagree.  To the victor, the spoils.  Regulation will never work.  It just creates calumnies and obfuscation on both sides.  Yes, corporations obliterate ecosystems every single day.  But, if not for those corporations, the same people who appreciate the views and the wilderness hikes and the clean drinking water would be deprived of basic amenities.
    I am a wilderness lover myself, but I believe that it's necessary to stay one step ahead of the corporations rather than legislate them.  This is just the sort of Pyrrhic victory which has always inspired revolutions.

12.  It's a sad reflection on our society that something as basic as drinking water is now a bottled, branded consumer product.

    Not in the least!  If people are impressionable enough or need it enough to buy it, it's a simple supply and demand equation.  The free market is sacrosanct when it comes to stuff like this.  The moment the demand disappears, the moment Dasani will be obsolete.

13.  Land shouldn't be a commodity to be bought and sold.

    Strongly disagree, because I don't have a better methodology for parceling it out.

14.  It is regrettable that many personal fortunes are made by people who simply manipulate money and contribute nothing to their society.

    Making money is a solid 'proclivity' in itself.  Were it easy, more people would do it.  The only way that somebody in that position could 'contribute nothing' to society would be if they sat on their enormous fortunes and let them moulder away to nothing in banks.  Money creates jobs, jobs create gainfully employed people.  This is a misnomer.  I do not hate wealthy people as a rule because I am not one myself.  I'm sure that there are many lucrative assholes out there, but there are just as many earnest, hard-working people who deserve every cent that they earn.  Strongly disagree.

15.  Protectionism is sometimes necessary in trade.

    Never.  Zellers has now been ousted by Target here in Canada, an enormous loss for protectionists.  When it comes to food, amenities, furnishings, and consumer goods, though, I would far rather get the best product for less than know that buying domestic is creating jobs here.

16.  The only social responsibility of a company should be to deliver a profit to its shareholders.

    Absolutely.  If other outreach activities accentuate positive PR and underscore this bottom line, so be it.  But, should I ever invest in a company, I would want a solid return on my investment, not a mini-lecture on my obligations to everything else which would probably be serving some private itinerary anyway.

17.  The rich are too highly taxed.

    Strongly agree.  Again, I am not very wealthy myself, but I don't hold a grudge against rich people.  If they choose to make political and/or private sector donations out of their own volition, then I admire that.  Likewise, if they're too parsimonious and create discord as a result, then they will eventually either be displaced or will subdue their dissenters.  Nature will take its course.  I'm ambivalent about spending my entire life trying to make money, but I'm reluctant to endlessly try and gauge a little bit more out of people who do.  I don't understand how can people can spend their entire lives making a fortune and then see it get whittled away by taxes which go to fuel many of the rich 'assholes' who I mentioned in an earlier question (i.e $3 million for Obama to go to Hawaii).

18.  Those with the ability to pay should have the right to higher standards of medical care .

    Yes.  There should be a basic standard for everyone, which is one of the best things about Canada, but privatized health care helps keep a lot of jobs domestic and creates marginally less of a burden on the public system.  I would agree with this, albeit not strongly agree.  A mixed system is good.

19.  Governments should penalise businesses that mislead the public.

    Absolutely not.  This is fatuous, because advertising itself can be seen as 'lying.'  People should be responsible for their own media literacy, should know how to distinguish between sagacious and misleading advertising.  If a child chokes on a toy and dies, or if a drug turns out to kill, etc, then I believe that these victims and their families reserve the right to litigation/publicity, which speaks for itself.  But, penalising companies for 'misleading' the public is way too arbitrary and inherent in the process of doing business that it becomes a gratuitous idea to begin with.

20.  A genuine free market requires restrictions on the ability of predator multinationals to create monopolies.

    That's a misnomer, so no.  Curtailing market expansion is just another method of protectionism, one which may promote inferior domestic products over superior ones promoted by companies which have established a foundation for success elsewhere.  

21.  The freer the market, the freer the people.

    This aphorism brings us back to the allegorical Garden of Eden.  Create a forbidden fruit, and people will always find a way to get it anyway.  Curbing consumer tendencies is useless.  Very true.

22.  Abortion, when the woman's life is not threatened, should always be illegal.

    Correct.  If you're not prepared for the natural result, don't enter the playground in the first place.  There are plenty of easily obtainable contraceptives which can, with minimal inconvenience, be used to prevent conception about 98% of the time.  I have nothing against adoption, etc, but abortion is another way of saying that it's okay to kill the most vulnerable being conceivable (no pun intended).  Besides, 'illegality' before Morgentaler didn't stop anyone from getting abortions anyway.  'Illegality' may dissuade some people from making a very poor choice, which is a good thing in the same way as drunk driving laws may save one life in a thousand.  It's one of those "better a hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man go to jail" utilitarian propositions.

23.  All authority should be questioned.

    No.  Either maintain your legitimacy as a source of power, or get out.  If someone is doing their job well as an authority figure, then they won't be questioned.  It's only abuses of power which warrant insight, a fact discordant to the entire leadership process.  We've seen far too many instances of "meet the new boss, just like the old boss" throughout history.  The oppressed becomes the oppressor.  Desiring power is not a credential for having it.  It's more admirable to believe in something, though it be the most abhorrent cause imaginable, than to believe in nothing.  Some dissent is inevitable, but these voices should be silenced with either bribes or coercion.  Failing to do so creates an ineffectual leader who deserves to be deposed.

24.  An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

    Strongly agree.  If you're dumb enough to get caught, then pay the price, and learn from your mistakes next time.  Vindication is very important.  See the Durkheim study which posited that Protestants commit suicide far more often than Catholics because Catholics have a pretense of 'atonement.'

25.  Taxpayers should not be expected to prop up any theatres or museums that cannot survive on a commercial basis.

    I don't frequent either, so strongly agree.  

26.  Schools should not make classroom attendance compulsory.

    Past a basic formative universal education which instils literacy skills and basic math skills (up to age 13 or so) no.  Everything beyond that should be private schools focusing on a certain area; scholastic, or vocational/technical, or athletics.  If every person could do one thing and do it well, you would have people better qualified for the future than folks who could do a little bit of everything.  We live in a very occupationally specialized world.  I 'agreed' with this, but didn't 'strongly agree,' because I see a basic elementary education and testing process as very important.  It should be compulsory, but nothing beyond that.

27.  All people have their rights, but it is better for all of us that different sorts of people should keep to their own kind.

    Strongly agree.  Violent criminals, narcotics addicts, sex offenders, etc should be segregated from the rest of the population.  Rehabilitation programs should be made available to them, though.

28.  Good parents sometimes have to spank their children.

    I see spanking as a sexual activity between mutually consenting adults.  That being said, some children need to be spanked, and aren't; likewise, some children should not be spanked, but are.  Every time a parent spanks a child, they should remind themselves that there is a strong probability that this same child will be responsible for taking care of them, the parent, during their twilight years.  I would disagree, but tentatively so.

29.  It's natural for children to keep some secrets from their parents.

    On paper?  No.  Unfortunately, it has been said that "every family is dysfunctional in its own way," and this will almost invariably happen.  So no, it's not 'natural,' but is an unfortunate inevitability of the times.

30.  Possessing marijuana for personal use should not be a criminal offence.

    I've never used drugs myself, aside from alcohol (never even smoked a cigarette, in fact), but I see no reason not to legalize weed.  Drug laws were ratified in the 20th century as a way to persecute minorities.  It started with Chinese railway workers and opium dens, and progressed from there.  A free market would be way easier to control than the current one, which only illustrates the seeming ineptitude of the government to stop it.  

31.  The prime function of schooling should be to equip the future generation to find jobs.

    Strongly agree.  Many universities seem to have forgotten this.  I ascribe to the idea that 'artists' and more liberal-arts-minded people are born, not made.  So many people spend four years in university thinking they can write, then graduate, can't find a job, and realize that they've been screwed.  There should be many tools available for artists, but a university education is not one of them.  

32.  People with serious inheritable disabilities should not be allowed to reproduce.

    *Serious inheritable* disabilities?  As in, inheritable disabilities carrying a death sentence, like HIV or something similar?  No.  I think that no parent has the right to create a child whose short life will be filled with misery, suffering, and persistent anguish, knowing beforehand that this will be the case.  I fail to see how any responsible, loving parent could wish that on their child.  More minor hereditary conditions with physical/mental impairments should be up to the discretion of the parents. 

33.  The most important thing for children to learn is to accept discipline.

    Yes.  Those with astute minds will learn how to work the system accordingly, but need to learn early that nobody will support them in this attempt.  Think "Ender's Game."  The idea is to create a critical-minded child not through indulging his every whim, but through convincing him that he must learn how to circumvent hazards to achieve his goals.  The best parent is not one who tries to be a child's 'friend,' but rather one who instils a real sense of critical awareness, one who the child knows will always be there should he, the child, earnestly need something.

34.  There are no savage and civilised peoples; there are only different cultures.

  All cultures are savage.  Homogeneity has nothing to do with it.  Indigenous tribal feuds in Africa used to consist of six or seven deaths during the nineteenth century.  This was a 'war.'  Canada lost 158 soldiers in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2012. 

35.  Those who are able to work, and refuse the opportunity, should not expect society's support.

    *Expect* it?  Absolutely not.  Use existing resources according to one's own ethical discretion?  Yes.

36.  When you are troubled, it's better not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things.

    Ideally, yes, but this is not always possible.  As someone who has and continues to be at the forefront of mental illness, I can understand this.  I had serious compunctions about both this and the prior question, as I myself have been using social assistance since September 2011 in one form or another.  Though mental illness is not my only concern, it has definitely played an enormous role in the inclinations which I have experienced over that time.  I try not to use any more than I absolutely require, though.  I used to see it as my clown allowance.  People laughed at me (or pitied me, as the circumstances may be), and I chose to see my impecunious situation as 'compensation' for that, feeling that, no matter what I did, there were some labels I could absolutely never fight despite years and years of continually trying.  This year, I'm seriously considering trying to make a change.  Impetuous or wrongheaded?  Maybe.  I choose to see it as yet another tradeoff; one string of disadvantages for one string of disadvantages.  That idea only really started to fall apart when I began seeing my current fiancee, and realized that women actually could see me as something other than a 'palace eunuch.'  With that enormous confidence booster there, I feel prepared to try and work past some of the other concerns.

37.  First-generation immigrants can never be fully integrated within their new country

    I'm not acquainted with many immigrants presently,though I did know a fair number at one time.  In their case, probably not, but it all depends on the cultural/linguistic heritage.  I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on this.  That being said, I think it's wrong to admit more people to the country when there's still a paucity of jobs for people who are already here.

38.  What's good for the most successful corporations is always, ultimately, good for all of us.

    Yes indeed.  A more disingenuous approach to this question would be the assumption that successful corporations and rampant poverty are mutually exclusive, which they're not.  Yes, decisions affecting millions are often undertaken by a small handful of people, maybe not even people whose personal integrity I would vouch for, but I trust the autonomy of the individual more than I distrust such individuals, if that makes sense.  I don't see any better way of feasibly organizing people en masse than the one that we currently have.  South Park put this idea really well in the episode where Cartman gets a 'flashback.'  It's important to the success of modern democracy to be able to do something 'bad' (i.e environmental harm, mass layoffs, inflation, tax hikes, etc) while simultaneously being able to denigrate it through 'rights.'  Very smart.  Corporations benefit many, many people every single day, and I think that the world would be a way worse place without the Bill Gateses and the Mark Zuckerbergs.

39.  No broadcasting institution, however independent its content, should receive public funding.

    No, but it's really just a choice between censorship/biases vs. corporate interest when it comes to ad wars.

40.  Our civil liberties are being excessively curbed in the name of counter-terrorism.

    Strongly disagree.  Law enforcement/first responders rarely get credit where credit is due.  For every large scale incident, there are dozens of others stopped in the burgeoning stages because law enforcement stepped in and had the resources they needed.  Government by definition exists in a state of tacit compromise with the governed.  People exerting these 'liberties' should be capable of doing so despite government suppression, because accepting anything as a God-Given Right is one step closer to complacency and exploitation.  Folks have no 'rights;' they believe what rich and powerful people want them to believe, and act on the good graces of these people insofar as they are incapable of acting autonomously.

41.  A significant advantage of a one-party state is that it avoids all the arguments that delay progress in a democratic political system.

   Strongly agree.  That's a no-brainer, I think.

42.  Although the electronic age makes official surveillance easier, only wrongdoers need to be worried.

   Very true, but are 'wrongdoers' restricted exclusively to people impugning on publicly ratified laws?  No.  Power will always be abused.  So, whether the entity labeling 'wrongdoers' is the Canadian constitution or an angry teenaged 'hacktivist' leaker working out of a basement, it's our responsibility as people to be aware of this because, if somebody wishes it, we will be held accountable.

43.  The death penalty should be an option for the most serious crimes.

    Yes, I think so, but I also believe that, in the worst cases, juries should be presented with psychological testimony describing which would be more efficacious for the accused; a life sentence without any chance of parole (a real life sentence, not this 25 year stuff) or execution.  Some people would legitimately fear a life sentence more than execution. 

44.  In a civilised society, one must always have people above to be obeyed and people below to be commanded.

    I believe that, to whatever extent possible, there should be respect/basic courtesy for everyone, but yes, this sort of hierarchy is the only pragmatic way to go forward in urban society.

45.  Abstract art that doesn't represent anything shouldn't be considered art at all.

    Emphatically disagree.  Social strictures and art should rarely go hand-in-hand, though one can always be representative of the other.

46.  In criminal justice, punishment should be more important than rehabilitation.

    Strongly agree.  People dumb enough to be caught need to learn the consequences; namely, that there will always be somebody with a bigger stick.  Play by the rules, or at least appear to.

47.  It is a waste of time to try to rehabilitate some criminals.

    Yes, quite.  Many people are incorrigible, and those who are too pliable probably deserved whatever they had coming to them in the first place.  Nothing is more dangerous than indecisiveness.

48.  The businessperson and the manufacturer are more important than the writer and the artist.

    In a social sense, yes.  I have few pretensions towards success in that sphere.

49.  Mothers may have careers, but their first duty is to be homemakers.

    Very true.  Homemaking is an indispensable task, no less so than breadwinning.  The problem isn't that homemaking is necessary, but that there's a discrepancy in how each role is seen socially.  Mothers who choose to stay at home should be seen as contributing members of society just as much as their colleagues in the business world.

50.  Multinational companies are unethically exploiting the plant genetic resources of developing countries.

    No.  Use it or lose it.  Unfortunately, development is an ineffable aspect of nature, one which may never fully be curbed.

51.   Making peace with the establishment is an important aspect of maturity.

    Of course!  Either rebel in subtle ways or be put down with little effort expended on the part of those who resist you.  I once heard an excellent story about a Jewish man who infiltrated the SS during the Second World War.  He took part in the murders of many of his countrymen, but also helped hundreds of Jews escape.  Rebellion should be undertaken knowing that there are some things you can never change.  It should focus, first and foremost, on the things you can.

52.  Astrology accurately explains many things.

    Strongly disagree.  I have no reason to believe in horoscopes.

52.  You cannot be moral without being religious.

    'Religion' insinuates an external source of belief, like a church or a denomination, so I would say no.  I believe that over 90% of people consciously or unwittingly predicate their actions on the existence of a God or gods, but this is spiritual, not religious.

53.  Charity is better than social security as a means of helping the genuinely disadvantaged.

    Neither source of subsidy is 100% efficacious; both have a high recidivism rate, and both can and do become lifestyles for those who sincerely have chronic problems.  So, I disagree with this.

54.  Some people are naturally unlucky.

    Based on what I've seen, absolutely.

55.  It is important that my child's school instills religious values.

    Absolutely.  A formative understanding of God can be a really good thing.

56.  Sex outside marriage is usually immoral.

    Yes, but part of loving is learning who one can and should take mortal risks for.  Nothing is more important to me than the happiness of the woman I love.

57.  A same sex couple in a stable, loving relationship, should not be excluded from the possibility of child adoption.

    No, they shouldn't.  I think that children being raised by homosexual couples are far less at risk for dubious behaviors than their counterparts in the public system.

58.  Pornography, depicting consenting adults, should be legal for the adult population.

    No, I would have to strongly disagree with this, because it perpetuates sexual self-sufficiency in many cases without exploring other options.  Porn tends to be for people with either too much money or too little imagination.

59.  No one can feel naturally homosexual.

    Not too sure on this.  I'll tentatively disagree.  Homosexuality is a social positive these days, as it creates fewer babies and adopts a lot of them who would otherwise be homeless.

60.  These days openness about sex has gone too far.

    Strongly agree.  Promiscuity bothers me, regardless of the orientation.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Claws Notwithstanding: Understanding Section 33

    "Know your rights."  How many of us see this as an expression of chastisement, one which reprimands us for being all too under-informed of our opportunity to legal recourse?  How many Canadians can recite, verbatim, sections 7-15 of the Charter, or have a handy copy readily available?  Unfortunately, what many of us do not know is that Canadians don't have rights.  "Know your rights" is fundamentally an American term, as enumerated via the American Bill of Rights, ratified circa 1791.  Americans are guaranteed 'unalienable rights,' which cannot be encroached upon by anything.  That's one of the reasons why it's been so difficult to curtail gun legislation there in recent years.  Any modification of the original Constitution is seen as a basic infringement upon the life and liberty of citizens.  In Canada, this can never be the case as long as we have Section 33.
    Section 33, ratified in 1982 as part of the Constitution, reads as follows: 33. (1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15.
(2) An Act or a provision of an Act in respect of which a declaration made under this section is in effect shall have such operation as it would have but for the provision of this Charter referred to in the declaration.
(3) A declaration made under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or on such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.
(4) Parliament or the legislature of a province may re-enact a declaration made under subsection (1).
(5) Subsection (3) applies in respect of a re-enactment made under subsection (4).
     What this means in social context is that our 'rights' are not 'inalienable.'  In theory, absolutely anything...ranging from our section 7 entitlement to "life, liberty, and security of the person" to freedom from unsafe search and seizure to presumption of innocence may be modified or repealed for up to five years.  This means that, in theory, if Stephen Harper hates you and wants you dead, a simple majority vote in the House of Commons can nullify your Charter rights.
    In practice, Section 33 has rarely been used for anything other than broader social issues.  The federal government has yet to evoke it, only three provincial jurisdictions have ever done so, and likewise only two of the three Territories have done so.  In 2000, Alberta evoked it to maintain the traditional heterosexual definition of marriage, but the federal government shut them down because federal legislation overrode provincial legislation in that matter.  Alberta also once tried to use Section 33 in an attempt to prohibit litigation on the matter of forced sterilizations resulting from the Forced Sterilization Act.  Quebec evoked the most famous usage of the Clause in 1989, after having used it to abrogate the entire Charter for five years after its inception in 1982.  In 1989, Quebec tried to legislate against being obliged to subsidize bilingual road signs, and succeeded.  This law only got repealed in 1993 after censure from the United States Human Rights Committee.  If you're an Ontarian teacher, this next bit will interest you.  In 1988, the Saskatchewan government ordered striking employees back to work with the SGEU Dispute Settlement Act, later using the Notwithstanding Clause to expedite things, though the original motion was later found to be valid and so the usage of the Clause was superfluous.  In 2006, Paul Martin attempted to bring publicity to this concern, and was denigrated for doing so because his addressing the matter had gone unannounced during the previous election and seemed too unilateral.
    The Clause is an attempt by the Quebecois to strongarm Canada's legislature into anti-federalist and ultimately anti-democratic politics.  It was suggested to Trudeau in 1982 by Chretien, a Quebecois, and has most often been used to benefit...guess who?  Quebec used it to make itself a pariah state within Canada.  The reason I call this 'undemocratic' is because transparency is presently key to understanding and properly exercising one's rights.  The truth is that most Canadians aren't even aware of the all-pervasive nature of this bill.  The government can, in theory, curtail your so-called 'rights' at any time, because the Quebecois wanted a way to screw the federalists and got it.  I fail to understand how Chretien ever went down in history as a 'federalist' after becoming the main proponent of a bill which clearly stood to benefit mostly the French.
    I am proud to be a Canadian because of universal healthcare, which I see as a monumental achievement.  Our country has the same predicament of national identity now as Russia had in the 1860s, around the same time as Confederation happened here.  Back then, the Russians were divided into two camps; Slavophils (nationalists), and Nihilists (the popular term given to proponents of European doctrines).  There were those who wanted to make Russia New Germany, or New France.  From Day 1, Canada has been a reactionary.  One of the big reasons for Confederation was because we feared imperialism by sectarians in the American Civil War, and wanted a military.  Much of our legislation was later modeled after the United States and the United Kingdom.
    Canada's national demeanor, with some notable exceptions, has always been apologist.  Unlike our American brothers, we never broke away from the United Kingdom by force.  If the United States was a rebellious teenager which emancipated itself from its parents early, then Canada was the proverbial 'late bloomer' which hung around the house, outstayed its welcome, and finally got kicked out at age 30 when the British couldn't afford to run their empire anymore.  We've never had a national sense of 'independence,' the revolutionary spirit which serves as an impetus to our Southern neighbors.  Despite a superb display by our military in both World Wars, Canada has always been reputed most for its peacekeeping efforts.  We're seen as the conciliatory younger brother with an all-pervasive inferiority complex.
    Our ancestors beat the French in 1759, yet it's still impossible for Anglophone men and women of my generation to find jobs in many parts of Canada without speaking fluent French.  Never mind immigration laws, which admit minorities willing to occupy minimum-wage jobs which could otherwise be taken by said Canadians (not to mention the fact that, ironically, Quebec has a wide reputation as the most 'racist' province in Canada despite its repeated appeals for 'equal rights' ever since the Quebec Act; see the Herouxville incident of several years back).  Canada prides itself as being a cultural 'compromise.'  This is no more evident anywhere than it is in Ottawa, where I live.
    Might makes right when it comes to warfare, if nothing else.  In some ways, Canadians are years behind their time when it comes to dealing with this issue.  What many see as a peaceful coexistence, others see as a mutually detrimental debacle.  I myself am an example of this.  I, an Anglophone, have a fiancee who was raised in a francophone household.  The Canadian political situation in that respect is, indeed, a lot like a marriage, albeit a highly dysfunctional one a lot of the time.       

Do video games make people kill?

    We've all heard the rallying cry of the older generation, gamers; "video games melt your brain," "video games make you violent," "video games make you antisocial."  As kids, we had our playing time restricted to strict limits and lived in homes where ESRB ratings were treated as dogma.  As teenagers, we heard the bombastic sermons of the Jack Thompsons of the world.  As adults (or as teenagers still, for many of us) we learned of prolific killers, household names whose sprees were attributed to violent video games.  Every violent criminal of the last fifteen years has had his/her voyeuristic spree chalked up to violent forays into the digital world.  But, video games do not hatch nascent killers.  Rather, it's another burgeoning social attitude which creates the potentiate to kill; disaffection.
    In a twist of irony, I've been taking a hiatus from games since I was a teenager for a similar reason, albeit applied to games themselves rather than the things which games are alleged to make you do.  Games became redundant.  Distinctions between titles blurred.  Sometimes, I could be playing a title for half an hour before I actually became conscious of what I was playing.  "Call of Duty 4" and "Halo: Combat Evolved" became interchangeable to me, as did many other titles.  Just as games supposedly 'desensitize' you to reality, so I was 'desensitized' to games.  I could no longer bring myself to care about what had basically become interactive movies to me.  The very volition which makes games so successful...namely, suspension-of-disbelief, an ability to both immerse yourself in a digital realm while simultaneously believing that none of it is really 'real,' proved to be a hubris for me.  Half an hour of hammering at buttons turned into a chore.  Everything became "go there, shoot that" or "talk to such and such, complete X quest."  Instead of suspending the real world, it seemed like I was becoming ever more *conscious* of it, aware of the deferred responsibilities.  I became resentful of the electronic apparatus which had raised me in a sort of nascent Information-Age Oedipal rage.  If I couldn't recreate the whole thing for other words, if I wasn't self-sufficient, but rather just another mindless consumer...then I had no business using it.  I'll spare you the philosophical digression of fully explaining this, but the epiphany itself transpired at around the same time as McDonald's food began to taste like cardboard for the first time (mostly because I ate little else for a stretch of several weeks at one point while living on my own).
    So see here's the thing; I doubt that I was the only gamer feeling this way.  It's no coincidence that Nintendo released the Wii at around that same time, 2006, and in doing so added another dimension to gaming.  The Xbox 360 Kinect hardware followed a few years later, and Sony has released the PS Vita, a handheld based largely off the mechanics of the Nintendo DS touch interface.  The point of it is not only to make games appeal to a more eclectic age demographic (40-somethings looking to lose weight) but to bring back a market of disenfranchised 20-something Super-Mario-Generationers.  It was a brilliant marketing coup.  Nothing makes you appreciate something again like the premonition you're about to lose it.  I'm playing video games again for the same reason that Generation X-ers flocked out to buy typewriters when the Sinclair ZX80 began the advent of PCs in the 1970s.  The answer is nostalgia.   
    This same attitude which cultivated disaffection from games itself does exist in games itself, yes.  I'm not going to flesh out any of the tired old traditional arguments, like how the Bible is more subversive than "Call Of Duty 2," or how the nightly news is scarier than "Manhunt," or how people with paunches have been intoning the arrival of Little Green Men From Mars as they blew away children since long before the epoch of "Grand Theft Auto."
    Instead, I want you to please answer me this; what do killers Anders-Behring-Breivek, James Holmes, Pecca-Eric Auvinen, Eric Harris, Adam Lanza, and countless others have in common, besides the fact that they all played violent video games at some point?  Their motives are ever-varying.  Some killed more in response to structural phenomena (aberrations which occurred as the result of bullying, workplace harassment, mental hazing, etc), but others can't be accounted for in any sociological sense.  Several were affluent, or had well-rounded circles of friends, or caring families, and even girlfriends.  No, what these guys had in common was something far simpler; they never knew death.
    Video games do instil a certain 'perception' of death which occludes reality, one that society to this date has no answer for.  When you mow down a cop in "Grand Theft Auto," or electrocute a prison warden in "Manhunt," or up your frag count in "Call Of Duty," you don't see the funerals, the bereavement, the hearse, the grieving relatives, the years of suffering, the insomnia, the endless self-questioning.  Though these killers may have lost a grandparent between them, none of them knew the crushing, ever-present reality of death.  None had ever lost a parent, or a good friend, somebody cut down in the prime of life with no rhyme or reason.
    This is an elementary lesson in empathy which every well-brought-up child learns at some point, but one which is obfuscated by years of repudiation, of which video games is only one of the causes.  People are living longer, taking longer to grow up, deferring life tasks like buying a first home or marrying or raising children of their own because there is ultimately no 'need' for them.  That is the integral social problem at the heart of the Auvinens and the Lanzas.  At heart, they all feel superfluous, shunned, unneeded, not welcome.  Nobody needs them, nobody much gives a shit whether they fulfill their responsibilities or not (outside a perfunctory, sententious social censure which none of them see as real).  As a result, many of them enter their late teens or early twenties without a clearly defined sense of self or real direction.  None of them have ever stood by the bedside of a parent; instead, these parents are living longer.
    If the 'real' world clearly delineates what death means, and if this can be done on a comprehensive way streamlined to marginalized youth/young adults, we'll stop seeing as many of these rampages.  Of course, the men with paunches intoning the arrival of Little Green Men From Mars will always be a perpetual reality, but that's what taxes are for.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The real Kayla Bourque issue...

     23-year-old Kayla Bourque, the alleged 'psychopath' and naturalized Canadian citizen, is out on parole this month.  The dubious legalities surrounding the Bourque case have hinged on the instance of a 'victimless crime.'  For those of you who don't know Bourque's story, she is alleged to have confided to a peer at Burnaby's Simon Fraser University that, among other things, she has murdered family pets by evisceration and hanging, considered killing a drunken roommate at the university, fantasized about murdering homeless people, incited a depressed boy to suicide online, and dreamed of harming people during a home invasion.
    The primary issue in this case, as cited by media consensus, is 'preventative detention,' or whether it's ethical to jail someone for a perceived 'potential' to commit violent crimes.  Sounds like something out of that old Tom Cruise movie, "Minority Report."  Bourque was initially detained under the Mental Health Act, was incarcerated for 18 months on several counts of 'animal cruelty,' and has now been released somewhere in Vancouver.  However, there are 25 conditions surrounding her parole, including due disclosure to all people who she has 'intimate relationships' with of her past.  Harsh, isn't it?
    But, I say that the real issue in the Kayla Bourque case isn't one of preventative detention, because she's killed somebody already.  I'm not talking about the pets, I'm talking about the anonymous boy who she allegedly incited to suicide online.  Precious little information has been leaked to date about this incident; no victim name, or details, etc.  One can't know if this is for want of evidence, or is a token gesture of solicitude towards the family whose boy was senselessly slain.  And that, folks, is where the ambiguity of this case truly lies.
      In recent years, the accepted term in legal discourse for encouraging somebody to kill themselves over the internet is 'lethal advocacy.'  William Melchert-Dinkel, the man who encouraged over a hundred people to kill themselves via a modem and a fake alias, is probably the single most famous example of this.  He was sentenced to 360 days in jail in 2011.  But, it may come as a surprise to readers that, despite Melchert-Dinkel's complicity in the death of Ottawa teen Nadia Kajouji circa 2008, he was never charged under the Canadian assisted suicide law. 
    What is this law?  Well, section 241 (b) of the Charter states the following: 

Every one who ….(b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.
    Sounds reasonable enough, right?  Unfortunately, this law has conventionally been applied along a very broad scope indeed, ranging from medically-assisted suicide to the Latimer case (a father asphyxiating his severely handicapped daughter) to people euthanising elderly parents.  The big question is whether tacitly encouraging suicide via web modem can be considered a crime.
    To what extent are people responsible for what they say online?  How many times will we see instances of people clutching guns to their heads via webcams while forums of jeering people cheer them on?  What burden of responsibility can we place on 'reasonable' people who have never met their 'victims' before, who are unwilling or unable to discern between a 'joke' and something more serious?
    Digital 'lethal advocacy' has as many forms and types as outright murder.  Methods range from hazing to ignoring pleas for help to ostentatious, emphatic encouragement.  Where does one draw the line?  If a person registered on a website subsequently commits suicide, is it time to round up every IP address with a hit on the site in the last 24 hours and arraign them?  Likely not.  Secondly, what standard of proof is to be used in these cases?  Thirdly, how does one construe the idea of a 'reasonable person' as applied to both the hazer and the hazee?  Is the hazer supposed to intuit beforehand that their interlocutor has a real, vested interest in suicide, and to act accordingly?  Is the victim supposed to be applied to the standard of a 'reasonable person?'
    My answer to these questions is that all remarks blatantly suggesting or insinuating the cumulation of suicide, as interpreted by habeas corpus, should be interpreted as crimes equivalent to that of 'manslaughter.'  I allow for the reality that, while a hazer's aims may have been maleficent in intention, words are not bullets.  There will always be a substantive difference between condoning an act and pulling the trigger. 
    Obviously, the dynamic between lethal advocate and victim will be different in every case, just as much so as that distinguishing murderer from victim.  In some cases, as in the circumstances of Amanda Todd, the persecution can go on for many years.  This sort of case is obviously flagrant for the reason that there is a clear connection in motive between the actions of the hazer and Amanda's subsequent suicide by hanging.  In other cases, it is hurtful comments intended as constructive 'advice,' i.e 'tough love,' which may push an especially sensitive person to the edge and cause them to pull the trigger.  How do we differentiate a 'criminal' in this case from someone who wishes to exercise his/her right to free speech?
     Which, again, defaults back to my initial position of several articles ago.  I miss the days when people were prepared to die for what they said.  This is a circumstance where words can be every bit as dangerous as bullets, where a feckless callousness can mean the difference between life and death.    

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

What the teacher's strike, voter apathy, political campaigning, and disenchanted kids have in common..

     Everybody has that one favourite teacher, just as Nazi Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler posited that "everyone in Germany knows at least one good Jew."  But, with the teachers of Ontario headed towards illicit strike action on Friday, January 12th, one begins to wonder at one point enough becomes enough.  Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, was ratified effective on Tuesday.  Bill 115 freezes teacher wages for two years, prohibits 'sick-day banks' (transferring a quota of 'sick days' from one year to the next') and has created a two-year strike ban.  Although teachers have been ordered back to work by the Ontario government since classes resumed after the holiday break, provincial elementary schools will be closed on Friday so that teachers can express their displeasure with the government's ruling.
    This is the second time since 1997 that Ontario teachers have walked out of classrooms despite legal action abrogating strikes.  Ontario residents are beginning to wonder where the hell all of this is going to end.  In 2007, Carleton University support staff went on strike, leaving new students pretty much out in the cold for their first semester of classes.  Given the fact that high school was somewhere in between useless and actively annoying, first year was pretty well a recap for me anyway.  Nobody likes public schools anymore.  The age-old conundrum is simple; kids who exhibit potential from an early age don't tend to be challenged enough, and instructors must endlessly pander to the one or two 'high maintenance' kids in the class.  Most kids get lumped somewhere in the middle.
    The teachers want to strike?  Good, let them strike.  Fire them, replace them all.  According to the teachers I've personally questioned about this, they find it very importune that students, parents, etc are affected by all of this.  Some have openly referred to this move of the government's as 'fascist,' thus warranting the preceding quote, or as 'undemocratic.'  Maybe these teachers should start listening to their own colleagues in the Social Sciences departments, or take a seat in a grade 8 social studies course sometime.  Newsflash, morons: YOU ELECTED DALTON.  Or rather, didn't, because voter apathy on the October 26th, 2011 provincial election between Dalton McGuinty (Liberal), Tim Hudak (Progressive Conservative), and Andrea Horwath (NDP) was at an all-time low of 49.2%.  This isn't very hard to believe, because the 2007 provincial election between Mr. McGinty and John Tory (Progressive Conservative), Howard Hampton (NDP) and Frank DeJong (Green) was a smearfest imbroglio which boiled down to the issue of publicly-funded Muslim schools in the weeks preceding the election.
    The 2007 election hinged on an arcane issue which nobody much cared about because Mr. McGuinty's campaign team realized that, if the average voter has no clue what the real issues are but still feels an obligation to perform his civic duty, he will typically vote for the incumbent.  You want to make people go for the status quo?  When it comes to politics, the best conceivable way to do this is boredom.  Make the public interest seem convoluted, complicated, far beyond the mental breadth of the common man.  This is rarely, if ever, true, but let's face it, folks.  We live in a country where tax seminars involving millions of people are not held behind close doors clandestinely, but are beamed via satellite TV into thousands of homes.  Let's face it, they're just about as fun to check out as watching paint dry.  The main problem here is not voter 'apathy,' or stupidity, or any sort of failure to grasp the central issues.  The problem is lack of time.  Most people have precious little spare time, and dislike utilizing what little they do have on content which requires higher brain function.  Unless you're someone who has lots of time on his hands, like me, then you will rarely take the time to watch every debate, or read every brochure, or highlight every article. 
    You all remember 2007, the years after Monsieur Cretchien left federal politics and the federal scene turned into a knife fight involving more minorities than an inner-city public school.  In those years, the average Canadian cultivated a sense of 'election fatigue.'  I remember it well.  At the time, I belonged to a lobby of 'anarcho-syndicalist' university students who propounded something in between the doctrines of Noam Chomsky and Immanuel Kant.  These were the sorts of people who believed (I myself the worst of them, at the time) that, the moment they walked away from the city university with their liberal-arts degrees, that they would go out and change the world.
    But the average Canadian began to realize around this time that, no matter who we put in Parliament Hill, things never really changed.  We got complacent, got used to politicians crying wolf.  The point of this is that there's a very good reason behind the abysmal votert turnout of 2011.  All of this was a carefully contrived plot by the Liberals over the last several years...and Ontarians, you fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.
    The real problem here is not the voter apathy, or the government 'boredom' itinerary, or the fact that a few thousand employed 'adults' have decided collectively to start acting like a bunch of spoiled children.  What do all of those issues have in common?  Simple.
    The problem is the mentality that we're cultivating in young people today.  When I was young, I was taught to believe that the world was basically an unrelenting, unforgiving place, one where nobody got free handouts or second chances and everybody was protected by the speciously airtight reality of 'family.'  I was taught that, if I worked hard and long enough, that I could be (basically) anything I wanted to be.  This same mentality pervaded suburbia everywhere, and has for a long time.  The reason this fails is because it produces a country of administrators.  It creates a plethora of university students who will be disenchanted in a few short years when they realize that their liberal arts degrees aren't worth the paper they're printed on, who give their childhoods to public school systems which waste years on the most basic of principles.  Then, when you get to university and start shelling out the big bucks, you get to spend the first year or two learning all of it again.  Perhaps it gets better later.  I for one did not stick around to find out.
    Public schools have assumed the roles that governesses, maids, and, once upon a time, parents did.  Beyond perhaps a rudimentary formative education involving literacy and basic mathematics, up to perhaps age 8 or so, I see zero need whatsoever for public schools.  They create far more bad habits than good ones.  Rip out 'middle school' and 'high school' programs entirely, and create a program which streamlines kids into one of several groups.  The EU has had the right idea in this respect for many years.  Very early on, children are evaluated and categorized into scholastic, vocational, and athletic streams.  We in North America should have a similar system.  Instate fees and scholarships for marginally better classroom environments.
    Then, 'academically inclined' kids will thrive, more hands-on and active kids will be able to exemplify their skills, and more contumacious kids will learn their lessons the hard way, end up as career convicts creating jobs throughout the judicial, healthcare, and other industries.  Everybody will walk away at 18 with a certification that they can actually use, rather than a useless piece of paper called a 'high school diploma,' and teachers who take issue with a given school's policies will be free to find another.