THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL?

Greetings,

I’ve come to the conclusion that if you really want to understand the way people truly are, all you have to do is gauge the reactions of children, both good and bad.

I’ve written in this space before about the unwillingness of some people to move beyond childish views and attitudes on the world and try to grow up a bit. I make no claims to be completely adult in my views on everything, nor are my cultural tastes completely adult as it were (I like video games, I can be irrational sometimes), but I’d like to think I’m moving beyond obsessing over things that don’t matter, such as Yankee scores dating back to 1930 or if Brad Pitt’s ideas on architecture in Germany mean much to me and my opinions. Maybe a passing glance at the Sports page is cool, or maybe talking about digital gadgetry is fun too, but they’re hardly the dominant themes of my life.

Last night, The Big Picture with Avi Lewis courageously and rightfully broadcast a documentary called The Root of All Evil: The God Delusion. Incendiary with a touch of self-righteous, pent-up rage, Richard Dawkins (also referred to as Darwin’s Rotweiller), the writer and host of the documentary, finally spoke up about something that’s been howling for years in this irrational, faith-based world of ours: the idea that blind faith and the behaviours that come with are threatening to tear apart our world, especially in a time of al-Qaeda, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, et al.

It was the kind of documentary that you wish someone had the courage to say but so rarely comes on major network television; a vicious indictment of lazy, passive-thinking that lends itself to the capitalist church movement in the America, the extremism that breeds itself generation after generation in the Middle East, the mind-blowing rejection of proven facts established through the scientific method of our world’s history and how humanity came to be.

What does this have to do with a child-like mindset? There are so many people in this world who are so quick to judge, so quick to come up with amazingly rigid views on the world, shaded in tones of black and white, that religion offers up a small-minded, childish way of interpreting the world. Children generally have a hard time making nuanced judgments on the world (they are, after all, children) but what excuses do adults have? How can someone actually believe that evolution isn’t an established fact? Are you blind? Can’t you even try to look beyond your mundane, daily lives and see the bigger picture?

Truth be told, finding a spiritual side may be healthy, but only if you’re prepared to admit that you don’t have all the answers, your spiritual life is merely a gateway into something larger than yourself and your congregation and that you’re prepared to admit that your view cannot superscede certain realities of the world.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been very much opposed to Christianity. I’ve found aspects of Christianity interesting, theology a fascinating realm of study and even contemplated studying it. I’ve been fascinated by the Catholic Church, the Vatican, the sheer vastness of historical record the Church holds onto and rarely exposes to the public. That doesn’t change the fact that religion really doesn’t hold much of a place in my life, nor will it ever do that. I can’t be part of a religion that assumes their way is the Only Way.

This being said, people do need a spiritual side to their lives. In a world that’s become more connected via technology, we really do need to find places in ourselves that allow us to feel connections to something broader. Perhaps a spiritual life that doesn’t have all the answers is better for us, anyway. Keeps up with the challenge.

Also, Big Picture with Avi Lewis is a great show. Good to have him back on major network television.

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BUSY WEEKEND

Greetings,

Whew, what a weekend. There was just too much going on. I was crazy busy. However, one event I was really happy to go to was Word on The Street, which is now being held at Queen’s Park (which actually makes a lot more sense, considering how before it was held on Queen Street West and it was getting way too insane with freakish numbers of people coming out on a street never designed for a festival of this scale). I got some pretty sweet new (and cheap!) books, including this title called uTOpia: Towards a New Toronto. The title’s been out for quite sometime, but there were so many bargins it was unbelievable. We’re talking 80, sometimes 90 per cent off for some books.

Too bad the rain opened up on everyone today around 2 p.m.-ish, but I’m glad this humidity is finally leaving.

TORONTO SPORTS SCENE, VISTA AND AN MP3 ANNOUNCEMENT

– TheStar.com
Greetings,

Wow I’m tired.

Was at a corporate event yesterday that ended up in a box at the Rogers Centre, watching the Jays, now mathematically out of the pennant run, beat the hated-with-blue-star-intensity Yankees 3-2 (although to be honest, I was watching the game and talking to attendees a fair bit, so I found myself missing details here and there) and see Roy Halladay’s season end.

What a disappointing season for the Jays. Remember back in April and May when things were looking great, the offense was scaring the crap out of pitchers throughout the American League, masking the Jays’ horrendous shortcomings up the middle with so-so pitching and a lousy SS-2B combo? Injuries, the pitching staff largely getting pumped night after night due to far too many rookies on staff who didn’t know what they were doing (who thought putting Shawn Marcum in as a starter was a good idea?), the bats going into the tank, John Gibbons’ scorched-earth policy towards players who dared to challenge his dubious decision-making powers on and off-field… All in all, a major disappointment. How’s that Five-Year Plan working out, J.P.? Good? Not really.

Even if the Jays manage to secure all the excellent players still worthy of a chance, and even if Rogers opens up the vault again this off-season to J.P. Ricciardi to sign on at least two new starters (ugh), three or four relievers (double ugh), a shortstop that can actually hit for average (not likely) and a catcher who can throw out base runners, this team is still at least two seasons away from really challenging the insanely hated and talented Yankees for the division title, let alone the World Series.

Is the fact all four major sports teams in Toronto stink (please Leafs Nation, spare us rational folks the idea of a Cinderella-like run this season under Paul Maurice – the crazy-slow Leafs can’’t compete in a league which has become so fast-paced) merely an unfortunate cosmic alignment of bad timing and bad management, or some kind of karmic force that is punishing Toronto for being such a terrible sports town?

I’’m willing to admit that Toronto is still very much a city that follows rather than defines; it’s somewhat contemptible that up until the recent past, Toronto followed a very distinct cultural pattern of consumption and interest in activities that other cities defined (*cough* New York City) as worthy of attention before Toronto. Toronto is very much a city of commerce and largely Philistine-like qualities in some circles (although that’’s changing for the better, I think). When it became trendy to love the Blue Jays between 1983 to roughly 1993, it was good for the city. Yet as we’’ve gotten bigger and been subject to the indulgences and attention of power-brokers down south (cue the NBA), we’ve grown complacent in terms of our investments in sports in Toronto. We mindlessly support the Leafs as if they actually deserve our support, ignore the Raptors and question why the team is a veritable Gong Show, only start to show interest in the Jays when they have a chance to compete in the ridiculously hard AL East, and ignore the Argos. Let’’s face it. We ignore them.

I don’t think bringing the NFL to Toronto will be a remedy for the serious sports malaise that’’s now casting itself over this city. But I do want to address one point that springs eternal hope for people who do like sports in Toronto.

While my friend Neate, whom really doesn’’t like Toronto sports culture (well, actually, I have no idea what he thinks), points out that the “trendy” factor for sports in this city is huge (and there’s little doubt there’’s a significant number of Torontonians who follow what’’s hot before defining themselves and their own interests in sport), one could argue that great cities in their cultural infancy tend to follow this distinct pattern and then grow out of it over time. Take New York City in the early 20th century. If you look closely (the Complete New Yorker is a godsend in this area), you’ll see the city was not unlike Toronto today; bursting with commercial and intellectual energy, welcoming of immigrants from around the world and suffering from an incredible inferiority complex towards London, England. In our case, Toronto’’s got the same problems, only this time, we’’ve got that collective inferiority thing going on with New York City.

Does it apply to sports teams? Maybe. In an ever-growing metropolis like Toronto, forming a collective sense of sports identity rests on common ideas about culture, communities and people. Toronto’’s not really at that stage yet. This city can barely agree on how to build a waterfront, let alone building community loyalty to franchises beyond simply mindless rooting for the home team. The Leafs and our region’’s ridiculous attitude towards them is rested on a quaint nostalgia, a belief in the eventual restoration of Original Six glory due to hockey’s powerful relationship to Canada, to defining ourselves as a city and as fans.

This is why Ottawa isn’t a bad sports town, it’’s just kind of strange to even define the terms of the debate on good or bad with Ottawa. Ottawa isn’’t exactly a town that screams community or shared values, so why make the claim that they’d ever have a strong sports culture? (When you have three separate governments all staking a claim to the region as a primary employer and all-pervasive, all-unifying force to a group of people who largely come to the area for work or education, you’d probably not care about the Senators or Lynx either).

What I’m saying here is that in an era of globalization, the Internet and communities in flux, it’’s amazing how important the notion of shared values, shared communities and shared cultural icons really play a part in sports culture. As we continue to urbanize and see greater and greater integration of larger cities, more multi-generational Canadians, more people in general, it’’s important to think that while these are very dark days for Toronto sports, there’s always a chance for redemption.

MICROSOFT VISTA: I downloaded and installed as a partition on my computer a copy of the new OS from Microsoft, Vista Release Candidate 1. This is not by any means the finished product; it’s incredibly unstable to use with some programs. But wow, it’s real pretty.

A BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: In light of the fact this blog needs some “value-added” components to it, I’ve decided that I will be offering up MP3 files for sampling and listening purposes only on a weekly basis – in effect, turning this blog into a partial MP3 Blog. Of course, with lots of comments about general ongoings in between. Please delete files after 48 hours.

So without further delay, here’s three tracks I just happen to like. I like what I like. I claim to have no real knowledge about the inner workings of these people. It is what it is.

Tiesto

My brother introduced me to Tiesto as he’s known by (formerly DJ) and I have to admit, I find my brother’s tastes in music interesting and original (if not a bit odd here and there) and this time, boy did he get it right. Don’t keep the sound up at the beginning, the entry’s a killer. It’s very beat-heavy.

Tiesto – Traffic

David Bowie

Ok, so this is incredibly retro and pales in comparison to Modern Love, but how can you not love this post-disco goodness? It’s Bowie, the guy’s still a genius (and the most technically advanced rocker in music).

David Bowie – Let’s Dance

KRS-ONE

That’s right. One of the original masters. He’s coming to Toronto soon. Seems only appropriate you get one of his best.

KRS-ONE – My Philosophy

AMAZING AVATARS AND MATRIX MUPPETS

– Even better than the real thing?
Greetings,

Today, MTV released a new web application that could effectively push them ahead of MySpace at some point: Virtual Laguna Beach, an online avatar-based game in the vein of Second Life.

I don’t need to tell you why this could be the biggest online hit in MTV’s history. Aside from Laguna Beach’s addictive qualities to many people (didn’t become MTV’s biggest hit ever for no reason) having them interact with the show even in a virtual sense will make watching the television show passively seem kind of passé. Good on MTV for this – it will make a natural addition to Overdrive. I play Second Life sometimes and man it’s fun. Addictive even.

MATRIX MUPPETS: This has been online for several months now, but just in case you hadn’t seen it yet, you must. This could be the most amazing mash-up of pop culture I’ve seen in a long time. It’s funny but incredible. The Matrix meets Kermit.

THE HARDEST WAY TO MAKE AN EASY LIFE

Greetings,

One of the hardest parts of moving into true “adult” life is learning how to cross the divide, I think, between remembering and enjoying moments of your youth at times and no longer living as an semi-adult all the time. What I mean by that is shedding off ideas that you’re always going to be young and playfully unaware of reality, that responsibility barely qualifies you to do more than cook dinner and pay bills on time, that fun times aren’t limitless and part of being older means finding the appropriate balance between life and work.

I know, it seems bloody obvious. But really, in a world like ours, is it that apparent?

Four significant and unrelated events this past week kind of underscored these facts to me.

First off, the Montreal shooting at Dawson College. I don’t know what was going through Gill’s mind at the time of the shooting, nor do I really want to. I think it is unfortunate the guy’s lasting mark on the world will be one of unspeakable horror and murder, not to mention the fact he selfishly took the life of a young woman who probably would have ended up doing great things. But now we’ll never know.

I didn’t read this guy’s blog, but I got the sense after Gill’s blog was disseminated for full public consumption that the guy was a perfect storm of broken dreams, a man so convinced of his own worthlessness that he hated everything. Thing is, I also think he probably wasn’t like that at one time. He sounded, at age 25, like a guy who’d been so beaten down by the world once too often that he allowed himself to descend into the polar opposite world of most kids: children are, quite often, idealistic and happy, unjaded little people who take the world at face value. But when bad stuff happens to people, as it inevitably does, you start to take on a more realistic view of the world, understanding that the world’s a vicious, mean place sometimes.

There are those that come out damaged, “defective” as it was put on CBC Radio by a Dawson College student, who can’t see those shades of grey in the world and revert to single-minded hatred. Gill’s actions show he was really messed up and needed serious attention, whether from a psychologist or the police before Dawson happened. But it demonstrates a clear point – Gill was messed up and lacked ways to grow up and see the futility of his dangerous, juvenile ways.

Second, a piece of technology I’ve been looking at. The XBox 360. As it seems commonplace for gaming to be amped up in the pantheon of digital culture more so everyday, I’ve felt recent temptations to get one. Thing is, why? I’ve been asking myself why I need such a gizmo when I’ve got more serious goals in mind. You know, saving up for traveling someday? Why get something that clearly won’t benefit me practically?

Thirdly, letting go of personal pain. We’re all inherently shaped on some level by the combinations of pain and pleasure, especially when we’re kids. Our likes and dislikes are largely shaped by that period in our lives. But being people, revealing pain to ourselves is extremely hard to do. Recognizing how pain affects our daily decisions and what our individual goals are is hard. But ultimately, some people hold onto pain so much that it delays their development into fully-formed adults. In a world like ours, with so much instant suffering on the web or CNN, holding onto our personal pain is anathema to our own personal evolution – there’s enough bad stuff out there to exacerbate our suffering enough to simply tuning out, giving up, letting the pain win and beat us.

Finally, comes Queen’s Homecoming. I know I’ve commented in this space recently about some issues I’ve had with the direction of Queen’s, mostly in the realm of Queen’s getting a football stadium at a time of extreme fiscal prudence (talk about putting the cart before the horse people) in academia. I don’t want to keep bringing up this debate to inflame the passions of a certain individual (whom I respect very much) who reads this blog, but this weekend was my class’ reunion. Not to mention the fact I’m the ’01 permanent class vice-president, I still didn’t go.

I’ve decided the main reason not to go back for a long time is that by doing so too often, I’m holding onto a time in my life that has long since passed. For three months after leaving Queen’s in 2002, I had serious trouble letting go. Not only because I was holding onto some amazing times and remembering how radically wonderful my personal changes were and all my accomplishments, but also because I could hold onto some of the pain of those crazy five years in Kingston. Learning to let go is the only way you can truly come to terms with yourself and who you are, as well as evaluating the choices you’ve made.

If I could possibly summarize this post, it’s this: becoming a fully-formed adult isn’t easy in this world of ours. But it is possible. It just means learning to let go and move on sometimes.

SWEET APPLE

Damn, if only real life Macs were this hot.
Greetings,

In that grand Mac tradition, Steve Jobs announced today some pretty amazing new Apple apps. I’m still waiting on the Video iPod (not the iPod with Video I have, which has no battery life to handle a downloaded movie from iTunes’ Showtime service) but the improvements to the iPod Nano look fantastic and the iTV hardware looks incredibly promising.

9-11, FIVE YEARS ON


Greetings,

As if anyone needed a reminder today of what happened in New York City, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania five years ago today. Needless to say, the world took note of that special five-year mark of 9-11 with international recognition of that terrible day in global history. It seems strange that it was only five years ago. As I wrote in a piece in the Dalhousie Gazette after the 2004 Presidential election, it feels like a lifetime ago. But, once again, there they were: Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, the Bushes – all there to take part in a ceremony that seems distinctly foreign in intent and mood now when it comes to the politicians involved. I can handle Giuliani and Bloomberg there. But to see President Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld all recognizing the fallen now in an obvious, pre-Congressional election move to shore up 9-11 sentiment to secure any hope in hell of a Republican win in Congress in two months seems craven even for them. I have nothing but indifference towards them.

For the victims and families of the dead, I have nothing but sympathy and sorrow.

– CBC.ca

It’s strange, isn’t. Five years ago, it still feels like a terrible nightmare. It doesn’t feel entirely real, does it? Of all the days and nights that have gone by, I can, like so many others, remember entire chronologies of that day. Get up. Get showered. Eat breakfast. Walk across Kingston’s city park to the newspaper’s offices. Get tackled by friend Chris who tells me a plane has hit the WTC. In disbelief, I deny it. Then he tells me it’s on CNN. Oh no. This is the Big One. This is for real.

I was numb that day. I can still see my classmate Robin’s face turn bright red and burst into tears with the news. I can still see a student politician named Jory look dazed and stunned. I can still see the BBC’s web site, bombarded with insane bandwidth requests that day, in plain text and only indicating thousands were presumed dead.

Even now, five years later, it’s still so blindly terrible, so insanely awful that you can barely get a handle on it.

Has the West changed since then? Yes, for the significantly worse. America’s government and the U.K. government have effectively made the world a much more dangerous place for a new breed of al-Qaida terrorists through a crazed scheme to invade Iraq. Europe and America are now very much at odds with each other. China and Russia, in an effort to counter-balance America’s pretensions at Imperialistic glory, are slowly getting back together again.

And what of Canada? Let’s face it. We may be worse, in some respects, than the militarized response of America. Why? Because we’ve retreated as a nation into some delusional idea we’re immune from a real terrorist attack, making hard choices about the world, and – gasp! – questioning if our future as a nation is really about those values we’ve “held dear” such as multiculturalism and not facing up to the truth that the world has become more dangerous since 9-11, not less. If and when Canada is attacked, we will change, and not for the better. After all, in a world that has bafflingly poor ways of responding to nuance and varying shades of grey, a Harper-led government would be more than willing to invoke a militarized response to a 9-11 style event here in Canada. That’s scary. That’s sad. That’s the potential beginning of the end of Canada as we know it when it happens.

That’s why there are days when I want to take a measured response to this War on Terror and think about the root causes of evil acts like 9-11. As Tad Homer-Dixon eloquently put it in today’s Globe, some people have a hard time grasping the notion that understanding an enemy is not the same as having sympathy for them. We’ve done a lousy job at understanding the roots of 9-11, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. As we arm and re-arm, waging real wars with real victims over abstract principles like “Terror”, we’re getting closer and closer to the real endgame: the moment a weapon of mass destruction goes off in a major American city and millions die is when democracy dies. Endgame is complete, al-Qaida has won. Any response after that horror will be a pointless gesture, a final attack from a mortally wounded beast of an Empire.

Are we headed down a road that has no return? Is this inevitable? I’d like to hope not. I’d like to hope that someday, we’ll look back and see 9-11 not as the beginning of the end, but as a moment in which we look back and know those people in the WTC, the Pentagon and United 93 did not die in vain.

R.I.P. to all 2,976 people murdered on September 11th, 2001.