Sunday, April 20, 2014

"You Can Polish a Turd, But it's Still a Piece of Shit"

For as long as there have been media literacy courses in colleges and some high schools, there's been a way to inoculate one's faculties against the most blatant displays of propaganda. In a small way at least, courses on how to read film, identify lies by omission and other common tools of the advertising world, make up for the woeful absence of education in critical thinking.

Sadly, as elective courses even in high schools with the resources to allocate time and staff, such a tiny percentage of the population will receive any form of critical training that any hope of "herd immunity from gullibility" is pretty slim.  This is the environment in which the stuff of election campaigns are made.

The point I'm trying to make is that even with the cynical scalpel of the internet peanut gallery, it's breathtaking how dangerously persuasive any kind of nonsense, pseudo science, or supernatural hokum can appear to the untrained eye when it's edited into a slick HD Youtube video with some Hans Zimmer stock music thrown over top.

Propaganda is nothing new and the ingredients are the same since time began: make your claim, which having been expressed is proof alone of its validity, then attack any criticism as heretical and appeal to the emotions of the audience.  In film, examples stretch back to Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 Battleship Potemkin for appealing to audiences' emotions to ignite passions of political solidarity against a common enemy, in this case the Russian Tsar.

From 1972's Patton, timed to rally waning public support in Viet Nam, to even James Cameron's Avatar, these films are not just didactic, they either beat you over the head with the message or wrap it up in cartoonishly obvious straw men.

And the most depressing part is a cursory glance at the Youtube comments, on trailers or other short videos meant to imply equivalencies where there are none, generates "debate" or even worse, sympathy.  This idea that there are two sides to any issue regardless of the facts, and that we have to respect the opinions of others even when they're spouting complete nonsense is so pervasive that it can illicit this comment on a video about a Geocentric universe:

This is a comment on a video proposing that THE EARTH IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE.  And this is how accommodating some people believe they have to be when someone says the SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH.  This is the kind of intellectual pacifism that surrenders before the debate begins by asking "why not have equal time for creationism in science class?"

That's the real danger of failing to equip children with the the tools of critical thinking, they grow up into media illiterates.  Videos like the trailer for a geocentric solar system or the infamous 9/11 conspiracy clip-show Loose Change are no worry to someone who can identify a false premise at the start of the fucking video.  Nor are they anything more than another scrap of confirmation bias for those who have already made up their mind to agree.  They're frighteningly evocative to the pseudo-intellectual, or fence-sitter who's been raised to "consider both sides" and not the evidence.

The old saying applies that it's good to have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.  And that sexy music and sweet camera moves are not an argument ad verecundiam. Fuck, at least the geo-centrics acknowledge the Earth is round.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Remembering a Fluffy Friend

The little animals will do it to you every time.  When they're no longer with you, the loss is just as tough as any other member of your family, made so painful by the unconditional love left behind.

Hopefully they live a long and happy life, one during which they share in the best times, and stand by waiting for everyone to to just calm down and feed them during the worst.

No matter how old either of you get, that excitement they have to see you is always overwhelming; whether you've been gone five minutes or five years.

And even though there are times when they might destroy the wall trim, scratch the hell out of the door, eat and shit CONSTANTLY and never ever shut the hell up -every bark jostling rattling googly eyes attached to a brain having minor hallucinations every five minutes- they mean more to you than some people you've known.

And so with broken hearts but so much thanks for being the only you that you knew how to be, we say Goodbye to you, Amber.  The memories and love of your sixteen years with us ring true in the words of Will Rogers, "If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went..."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dear Québécois, Stop Calling it the Secular Charter

...Meanwhile in French-Canada, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois has vowed to take all bureaucratic methods available to her to ram through Quebec's new "secular charter."   For those of you who may not have been following the headlines, the separatist party and defenders of all things catholic and French have been trying to pass a charter that would ban public servants from wearing any identifiable religious apparel in the workplace.

The espoused logic behind the Charter of Values is that it is intended to wash the government's hands of issues regarding "reasonable accomodation," which is why the document goes out of its way to identify all the Judeo-Christian items which will be prohibited when the charter is signed into law.

Of course as everyone is damn well aware, the real elephant in the turban is, well turbans, birkas and all sorts of other Muslim headgear that the largely catholic Québécois really have a problem with.  Now here is where we need to draw our lines on this issue, particularly with their use of the word secular.


Canada, the nation in which the Quebec Nation doth reside (as tumultuous as a relationship as that might be) is a secular, pluralist, multicultural society. Similarly to our neighbour's to the south we have an implied separation of church and state at least in practice --even if technically our head of state is the Pope of the Church of England-- there are no barriers to, nor religious tests of office in Canada. We are a secular nation, God-dammit.  That means we're cool with or Sikh Mounties wearing their turbans or an orthodox Jew rocking their curly-q things.

The Québécois has always been somewhat...adrift from reality.

Quebec's so-called charter to protect its secular values is the very antithesis of a secular society. The Bloc Québécois is so over-zealous in their xenophobic-francophelia that they're happy to stifle their own personal religious expression just to prevent the person renewing your Quebec driver's license from wearing a turban.   

It's worth making one other distinction and that is the difference between accommodation and discrimination.  There is a serious conversation, for instance, regarding the veiling of women in some Muslim communities in Canada.  Forcing someone to cover herself or face retribution is not by any stretch of the imagination freedom of expression.  There is a line between accommodating one not-so-harmful practice and axiomatically condoning some barbaric act of expression like female genital mutilation. 

By tossing in a wet blanket like this so-called charter, the ruling Parti Québécois are simply shutting down any meaningful dialogue.  It's a thuggish and cowardly act made more obscene by their insistence to pervert all that the word secularism represents.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Who Remembers Little Golden Books?

Who could forget those timeless classic story books that littered our nurseries, towered in ceiling-high stacks in every kindergarten classroom, and were often found jammed into the rec-room VCR by a toddler in a torrent?

Unlike the neighborhood children who ran home only after hearing their name drunkenly bellowed by a parent who'd stumbled out onto the front porch at midnight, I have fond memories of being tucked in at night by my parents before getting swept away in the magic of reading.  

These classic Little Golden Books were some of my earliest memories, that and watching Short Circuit and Empire Strikes Back thousands of times on worn out VHS tapes.  Oh, how the memories flood back with just three keystrokes in reference to dead entertainment medium.

The trick is to install that love of literature early on.  I don't know if you have kids, or are planning to have kids, but I can't overstate the importance of instilling  good reading skills as early as one can.  It could very well be one of the strongest factors in developing the self-sufficient adult.  I'm a huge proponent of literacy, you see.

Myself, I kept up my love affair with the Little Golden Books and have even pitched a few of my own.  While maintaining the nostalgia of the lovely little writs, I've peppered my library with subtlety more mature themes for an adult audience.  Not anything raunchy, mind you -- I mean adult as in, the mundane minutia of the every day kind of adult topics.

If you're a fan of nostalgia, I recommend you go digging through your old tickle trunk or your parents attic to uncover your personal collection of children's literature.  Fill the trunk of your car with children's books, even buy a bigger vehicle, maybe a van.  Travel the side streets with your mobile reading library to attract the neighbourhood children.  Don't forget to over some refreshments, maybe some candy.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mystery of the Malaysian 777

A couple of months ago, I got into a Youtube binge that lasted for a good several weeks.  The theme of this binge-fest was famous air disasters -- well not even famous, a few well known cases from their day and a whole lot of little ones about which you've probably never heard.  Of course at the moment, the world's attention is focused on Malaysian Flight 370, the Boeing 777 that vanished eleven days ago without a sign of wreckage in what is unfolding as one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.

We all love a good mystery or puzzle to figure out and that's what gripped me at first, watching the investigators recount how they gathered wreckage and pieced together thousands of obliterated fragments to determine what brought down each particular plane.

Tenerife, the worst air disaster in history.

Usually it turned out to be some manufacturing defect or human error that set in motion a chain reaction of events leading up to an engine falling off, gas tank exploding, or catastrophic instrument failure.  In all these episodes of shows like Mayday and Seconds from Disaster, rarely was the cause ever a hijacking.  In fact, hijackings in the post 9/11 years have largely been overlooked in the media since they've all ended in arrests and not crashes.

The family members left looking for answers. In the hours after Flight 370 vanished, a passenger's cell was still ringing when dialed.

So we've grown somewhat ignorant that such occurrences still take place, granted there hasn't been any attempt at another 9/11 style suicide mission or any major incidents outside of Asia and the Middle East.   But the possibility presented in the Flight 370 case not just of a hijacking, but that the suspicion that it was perpetrated by the pilots themselves, fires the imagination with a mix of terror and excitement.

Flight 370 pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah

As fascinating a puzzle, as frustrating a search, one can't imagine what the families of the missing 239 people on board the vanished plane must be going through.  Especially since on top of the agony of just not knowing what the fuck has happened, the families have been royally dicked around by the government's involved in the search.  A frightening position to be in, one cannot help but be cautiously hopeful, if only to cope with the crushing uncertainty...