Category Archives: culture

Jim Carrey Just Dropped Eternal Yogic Wisdom on the Most Unprepared People

“It’s a weird little semantic jump, and it’s not that far, but it’s a universe apart from where most people are.”

Jim Carrey, 2017

 

 

You are not earth, water, fire or air.

Nor are you empty space.

Liberation is to know yourself

as Awareness alone—

the Witness of these.

Ashtavakra Gita, 1.3

First & foremost, I don’t intend to validate “celebrity news” with this post. On the site where I most often encounter agglomerated news stories, the Celebrity section is laid out ahead of Finance. Since I’ve become old enough to want to read about commodity prices & shit Warren Buffet says, I have to scroll past thumbnail pictures of people who look so perfect I wonder if they even belong to my same species.

When I saw Jim Carrey’s uplifting smile in one of those thumbnails, I swooned. I clicked. I wanted to know whatever vacuous thing this celebrity columnist thought I needed to know about people I don’t really know.

It really helped that the headline said he gave an “emotionally heavy talk about ‘giving up hope’ during [a] rare public appearance”. As Robin Williams’ suicide reminded me, these slapstick comedians aren’t as one-dimensional as their typecasting made us think. (It also made their later films like One Hour Photo or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind so jarring that you could forget it was Aladdin’s Genie or Ace Ventura on the screen.)

The NY Daily News article went on to explain that Carrey spoke on a Broadway stage with Michael Moore. They got real. After quizzing Carrey about how he was coping with Donald Trumps’ presidency, Carrey went into his “emotionally heavy” stuff that apparently made people uncomfortable.

“Give up! Surrender to the idea that things are bad and yet still, from 3,000 feet up, we don’t matter,” Carrey continued. “Things are happening and we’re going to happen along with them whether we like it or not. But we don’t matter. … Once you lose yourself, you’re pretty okay. Just get you out of the way.”

Jim Carrey, 2017

wqoxq

That quote was the gem that made me realize Carrey was tapping into some classic wisdom that modern society has since tar-papered over as ‘nihilism’ and clinicalized as ‘depression’. Had he said this in an ashram, people would have swarmed the stage to touch his feet or place garlands around his neck. But he said it on Broadway, in a country where at least 1 in 6 people are on a psychiatric drug.

The emotional red flag was vindicated this week, when Carrey appeared at New York Fashion Week. This time, the reporter was baffled and defensive about Carrey’s attitude in the midst of the grand event celebrating fashion icons. Carrey never missed a beat, his delivery so perfectly casual:

“Celebrating icons? Oh boy, that is just the lowest aiming possibility that we could come up with. Icons. Do you believe in icons? I believe in personalities. I don’t believe that you exist but there is a wonderful fragrance in the air.”

Jim Carrey, 2017

That last line was a straight-up Zen koan dropped on this unsuspecting fashionista. How else could E! approach that, besides by dwelling on how ‘strange’ it was?

“Why is the monkey not dancing when I ask it to dance?” they wonder.

Because the monkey has found a way out of the cage. But the good zookeepers at E!,  Entertainment Tonight and TMZ like to come out with their cattle prods to make sure the monkey gets back behind its bars for our entertainment.

There is the classic yogic aphorism that when you are ready, your guru will appear. Basically, you have to be in a certain state of preparation in order to receive the grace of the guru. Carrey is not a guru per se, but I think the principle applies here loosely—if you’re not ready to be enlightened, you will never find the means to achieve enlightenment.

Carrey even went so far as to explain himself in a follow-up interview, quite clearly and coherently:

“As an actor you play characters, and then if you go deep enough into those characters, you realize that your own character is pretty thin to begin with,” he said. “You suddenly have this separation and go: ‘Who’s Jim Carrey? Oh, he doesn’t exist actually.’ There’s just a relative manifestation of consciousness appearing, and then somebody gave him a bunch of ideas — they gave him a name, and a religion, and a nationality, and he clustered those together into something that’s supposed to be a personality, and it doesn’t actually exist. None of that stuff, if you drill down, is real.”

Jim Carrey, 2017

Holy wow! Rich white people pay tens of thousands of dollars to sit with enrobed wisemen who tell them the same thing. We get the fucking thing for free and can’t even appreciate it.

Yoga is a great exploration of identity. In fact, the system of yoga as described by Patanjali is entirely based upon stilling the modifications of the mind and going beyond false identities. Right off the top of his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states:

At other times, when one is not in Self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, taking on the identity of those thought patterns.

(Yoga Sutras, 1.4)

The Self’s confused identification leads to suffering in its many forms. Modern day mystic Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev expands on this sutra in his discussion about identity and prejudice:

“The moment you are identified with something that you are not, your intelligence is freaked. It will go in cycles around that. Whatever you are identified with your intelligence functions only around that. […] A prejudiced mind cannot see; a prejudiced mind cannot reveal the reality of life, that’s all it is. When I say prejudiced, it’s on many different levels. ‘No, no, I am very broad minded, I am not prejudiced.’ Well, you have a broad prejudice, you know. Your mind is functioning with a certain identity. Once there is an identity it is prejudiced.”

Sadhguru

Sadhguru oftens speaks about finding the separation between the seer and the seen. Patanjali reminds us that confusing the two is the essence of egoism and a major stumbling block to achieving self-realization.

Finding that space is not easy. Carrey explained his method for overcoming his suffering: “The fact is, going down the river of sorrow and suffering is the way to freedom.” Likewise, Sadhguru argues that darkness is a far greater possibility than light. Even more fundamentally, zero is the only infinite possibility:

The science of yoga is the technology to make ourselves into a zero because zero is not a simple thing. Zero is infinite, it is the very beginning of everything.

Sadhguru

Although I don’t think dipping into the river of sorrow & suffering is a viable method for many people, we have to acknowledge that there are many paths to the same place. Reducing Carrey’s method to depression or some other mental illness is infuriating. If Katy Perry can try to find her heaven in a mind-eraser Friday night, why can’t Jim Carrey find his heaven by facing his suffering in an honest and vulnerable way?

I don’t know the man, so I can’t say for sure if he’s coming from a place of self-harm or self-help. But on the face of it, in my unqualified opinion, between Carrey and the people reporting on him, there is zero doubt in my mind who truly deserves the ‘mentally ill’ stamp.

I leave you with one last quote from Jim Carrey. It ends happily, or at least peacefully. I compliment it with another Patanjali sutra to chew over.

While the activities of the emergent mind fields may be diverse, the one mind is the director of the many.

(Yoga Sutras, 4.5)

 

“Know that no matter what happens, this is not who you are,” Carrey said, according to People. “You choose the part you want to play in this life. I want to be a good guy. I want to do good things. I want to make people happy and I want to help out when I can. So you do what you need to do.”

Jim Carrey, 2017

 

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Cosmetic Dissonance (Parabens, Nuclear Bombs, and Alarm Fatigue)

I’m no psychologist or sociologist…but as a human being who pays attention to their body, mind, and emotions, I think it’s fairly obvious that there has to be some kind of fatigue associated with all the menacing shit we hear on the news.

After waking up panicked about whatever new horror looms, numbing would develop…an emotional callous. It’s the phenomenon of alarm fatiguea yawn in the face of a warning—a desensitization to the constant demand.

How many nuclear warheads and riots and stormageddons should a single individual endure in a lifetime? Based on the very few moments I happen to catch televised news in a coffee room at work, the answer is about 1 – 3 per day.

So it’s with some reluctance that I dare toll a bell.

A few months ago, I wrote about widespread environmental contamination, and how this poses a bigger threat than the headline-grabbing climate change.

In that short time, narratives about latent nuclear and race wars have moreso dominated the headlines (at least, here in North America)—and on the face of it, my argument about contamination affecting our ability to adapt to climate change is moot when faced with a nuclear winter.

IMG_1589

It’s a good counterpoint. If we can’t get along, it won’t matter how adaptable we are. Our ancestors probably knew the reality of this better than we could, and they still set out with war paint.

Sometimes humans can’t get along, and being the kind of species that can’t go alone, that means divisions and derision. In a tragic and nihilistic way, inflicting suffering on another—on anything outside of the limits of the sense-bound body—seems inevitable. We can’t feel “the other”. We can’t feel our hair and fingernails either, and look at what we do with them.

 2013-03-30 IMG_0070 

What do we do with our hair and nails? We tend to them, to try to get along with each other. We keep our nails short so that when wipe our children’s tears we don’t rip out their eyes. We keep hair out of our eyes so we can see danger/opportunity, to protect/enhance ourselves and our loved ones. Then perhaps a discarded shell, placed properly on a combed hairline for the perfect aesthetic effect.

Around 6,000 years ago the Egyptians (and arguably others for thousands of years before) added pigments to their skin and styled their hair into ritualistic art. In the last 50 years or so, cosmetics have grown beyond naturally-occurring rust to become industrial chemical processes that we happily slather on our lips, hair, and armpits

For many of those last 50 years, companies were able to use experimental chemicals on sensitive body parts, on the basis that no research showed acute effects, and that no research had shown long-term effects (because ‘long-term’ hadn’t happened yet).

Now that a generation of guinea pigs have marched towards their elder years with the benefit of other cool medical advances, we are finding a little bit of the ugliness beneath the pursuit of all that externalized beauty.

Whereas you might be absolutely (and rightfully so) terrified of a nuclear bomb, most of us wouldn’t even wince at the thought of lathering up with body wash in the shower, putting on make-up in the mirror, or putting on a cooling face mask before bed.

 

ninjajournalist
Apparently Marilyn went to obsessive lengths to maintain her looks, applying a “thick hormone cream to her face multiple times a day.” It caused peach fuzz facial hair to grow (Ninja Journalist, 2017)

 

But within (most of) these products, we wage a tiny nuclear war with ourselves. Parabens, for example, were just recently reported to be linked with poor semen quality, and were previously known to have estrogenic characteristics.

Keep in mind, these are also chemicals we knowingly add into products to suppress bacterial growth. It’s a process safety bonus, but essentially, the additive suppresses a life-form by disrupting membrane transportation or inhibiting DNA/RNA synthesis. It can’t be all that surprising that these have some detrimental effect, especially when their use is so widespread that it’s “[…] found in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, pesticides, plastics, detergents, food, toys, and flame retardents,” according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Not that I’m trying to worry you. Or trying to advocate for a ban or anything drastic. There are products which feature alternatives—grapefruit seed oil, for example. The oft-cited European Union ban was mainly based on preventing skin irritation in children, not on endocrine disruption or carcinogenicity. Research is indeed lacking.

It’s the dissonance of it that gets me, I guess. The tools we use to beautify ourselves also hobble us. Research may reveal that parabens are  like high heels, but invisible. They help aesthetically, but do nothing to enhance the system by their own mode of action, and in fact, may cause more harm than we have understood to date.

DA_ 0089
The Index (David Altmedj)

 

And then the poetry of the thing gets me. We quake at the rare thought of nuclear fall-out, but eagerly put out our hands if a friend asks if we want to try their new hand cream.

 Maybeand only just maybeand probably not evenbut just maybe, if we didn’t willingly subject ourselves to death by a thousand cuts for relatively minor comfort & convenience, we wouldn’t try to blow the whole fucking thing up.

But then again. This is just another alarm. It’s late. North Korea is talking shit and Trump is tweeting before sunrise again. On & on & over again. Let’s wash our hands clean of this thing and not worry about getting parabent out of shape.

Reading 2017 into 1886

I don’t particularly like to write in books. I know people who keep Foster Wallace footnotes in the margins of all their books.

Like most things, I have an exception: my Nietzsche books. They are fair game. Friedrich Nietzsche’s works, when not aphorisms, are dense–they are difficult to scan.

I read and re-read Nietzsche, the same way I mull Patañjali or the Bhagavad-Gita or Kerouac or Baudelaire.

The passage below struck me when I read it last night. It was hard not feel a it like Nietzsche was sitting on the other side of the sofa, sunk and uncomfortable in his Bismarck-era get-up, smoking all my ganja and rambling about decadence.

This excerpt is Section 242, in ‘Part Eight: Peoples and Fatherlands’, from Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1886 work, Beyond Good and Evil. This translation is by Michael Tanner in 1973; the italics are Nietzsche’s, the underlining is mine.

“Whether that which now distinguishes the European be called ‘civilization’ or ‘humanization’ or ‘progress’; whether one calls it simply, without implying any praise or blame, the democratic movement in Europe: behind all the moral and political foregrounds indicated by such formulas a great physiological process is taking place and gathering greater and ever greater impetus–the process of the assimilation of all Europeans, their growing detachment from the conditions under which races independent on climate and class originate, their increasing independence of any definite milieu which, through making the same demands for centuries, would like to inscribe itself on soil and body–that is today, the slow emergence of an essentially supra-national and nomadic type of man which, physiologically speaking, possesses as its typical distinction a maximum of the art and power of adaptation. This process of the becoming European, the tempo of which can be retarded by great relapses but which will perhaps precisely through them gain in vehemence and depth–the still-raging storm and stress of ‘national’ feelings belongs here, likewise the anarchism now emerging–: this process will probably lead to results which its naïve propagators and panegyrists, the apostles of ‘modern ideas’, would be at least inclined to anticipate. The same novel conditions which will on average create a levelling and mediocritizing of man–a useful, industrious, highly serviceable and able herd-animal–are adapted in the highest degree to giving rise to exceptional men of the most dangerous and enticing quality. For while that power of adaptation which continually tries out changing conditions and begins a new labour with every new generation, almost with every new decade, cannot make possible the powerfulness of the type; while the total impression produced by such future Europeans will probably be that of multifarious, garrulous, weak-willed and highly employable workers who need a master, a commander, as they need their daily bread; while, therefore, the democratization of Europe will lead to the production of a type prepared for slavery in the subtlest sense: in individual and exceptional cases the strong man will be found to turn out stronger and richer than has perhaps ever happened before–thanks to the unprejudiced nature of his schooling, thanks to the tremendous multiplicity of practice, art and mask. What I mean to say is that the democratization of Europe is at the same time an involuntary arrangement for the breeding of tyrants–in every sense of that word, including the most spiritual.”

On Where to Stick Your Free Parks Canada Discovery Pass

WARNING: This blog entry contains unapologetically elitist opinions. Reasonable arguments are included, but I’m going to make you read through my opinion first.

About a week ago, Canadian news reported that the Parks Canada website had crashed when traffic overwhelmed its servers. The reason for the traffic? The free Discovery Pass up for grabs in 2017.

The Liberal government announced that, as part of its platform and in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, national parks and historic sites would be free for every Canadian citizen. It was a very minor platform plank, something to tout Canadian heritage and maybe win over some newer Canadians who feel disconnected with the natural abundance of our great landscape.

A minor platform plank—but for me, this was a sticking point. And it still is.

Before the 2015 election, my father and I were standing in Banff National Park, waiting for the Canada Day parade. He offhandedly brought up this policy idea. I didn’t even have to tell him how stupid of a platform plank that was. He just had to look around.

For those not in the know, Canada Day is probably the worst time to visit the mountain parks. The crowds become mobs, drivers become the me-first-and-fuck-you-very-much kind of motorists you find in any city, and the roadside attractions become mere backdrops for narcissistic selfies. I put up with the parade for my parents. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be within earshot of the place.

In brief, the Banff townsite becomes a diorama of everything I find sad about modern society. And the Liberal government only wants to proliferate this tragic diorama.

Let me unpack that statement a little. I am no old stock Canadian, fearful of immigrants starting to infiltrate parks and historical sites. Despite that—or at least, despite the image propagated by the Liberal government—I am an avid outdoorsman, hopelessly devoted to the Canadian landscape.

That doesn’t mean I am the best at everything outdoors, or that I have fancy expensive equipment. In fact, I pack lo-fi gear as a rule. My friends ask for gear tips for the backcountry, and I have nothing to offer them.

Quite frankly, you only need two things to enjoy nature: the capacity to be present, and a will to survive.

And let’s face it. Our society has a massive attention deficit problem. As a culture, we do not have the capacity to be present. It’s just not a value that is promoted. Even the Lululemon aphorisms or optimistic Instagram quotes about ‘staying in the moment’ are bullshit lip service. The true capacity to remain focused, and to maintain that focus for a prolonged period, is very difficult.

I don’t claim to have this capacity any more than you. But I sure do value it. And our national parks, typically being the largest, wildest places a public citizen can visit, offer a brilliant opportunity to practice. There’s no better place to get in touch with your animalistic nature than being wildly unprepared in a place that offers no help, no comfort, no easy way out.

Trudeau sees—or so he says—an opportunity for new and old Canadians alike to get to know their country. What does that mean, in our current cultural mode, for a place like Banff National Park? It means more commercial properties, more roads so we don’t have to actually walk, more intrusion, more fragmented ecosystems, more big name brand stores so you can shop for the same shit you would buy in any suburban mall—but with a mountain in the background!

National Geographic had a lengthy look this year at how this same model operates in Yellowstone National Park. With the intent to try to infuse nature back into our lives, we impose our lives on that very nature and hope that seeing it in small glimpses out the side of a tour bus will be the placebo we need.

I will say, from personal experience, this opera glass experience is useless. If you go into the wild and don’t break a sweat, or feel lost, or get the minutest sense that all your synthesized identities are a facade of the mind, to convince itself it is something other than nature—forgetting you are nature—well, you might as well throw in an episode of Planet Earth in between binge-watching the newest season of Fuller House.

That’s my elitism about it. No Kardashians allowed, basically.

Now for a little more reason.

It is easy to forget that little over a year ago, Canadians had a very different federal government. Not only was our national leader a lot less prone to selfies, he had a fundamentally different approach to our natural resources. For the Harper regime, Parks Canada was just another department that needed to cut its budget…you know, so Harper could spend money saving Christians and advertising about how great it is.

Since 2012, Parks Canada had its budget drastically cut, seeing 600 jobs lost, winter service suspended for many locations, and a doubling of entry rates. More than $27M was cut from the 2014/2015 budget, even though Parks Canada identified a $2.8B backlog of maintenance and repair work for its buildings in “poor and very poor” condition. At the same time, Parks Canada generated $3.3B for the economy, spread across 400 communities in the country. And still, Harper let it bleed out.

Now, after all these cuts, the Trudeau government is throwing open the gates. Harper starved the beast, and now Trudeau is putting it on display in a cage.

Revenues account for ~25%  of Parks Canada’s permanent budget, with approximately half of this revenue from entry fees. This ~12.5% will need to be accounted for by the federal government, so in a way, we’re all paying anyway. But what’s worse is that the use of government funding is notoriously inefficient. Generated revenues are probably the most carefully spent 25% of the budget. Will this be the same when it’s coming from government coffers?

That doesn’t matter to Trudeau and Catherine McKenna, because they obsess that the experience isn’t accessible. How is a decimated public service going to be any more accessible to people? How is overcrowding and development of a wild area going to help that? Should this experience be easily accessible?

Liberal MP John Aldag, formerly in parks management, put it best: “[…] when you do have crowding conditions, it impacts the entire visitor experience and it can have ecological or cultural integrity impacts.” The current visitor experience manager for Banff National Park echoed these concerns.

Aldag’s solution? “In some ways, it’s managing visitor experience.”

Oh ok, great. So in order to gain an experience of our national parks and historic sites, we have to compromise that experience. That makes a lot of sense.

Overall, this minor opinion won’t change a minor policy. So I am appealing to you, dear Reader.

Sure, take advantage of whatever bonus the government is providing. They are few and far between. But don’t be an asshole about it. Go to the parks, see the sites, but leave some of your civilization at home. Park your car (if you can find parking), leave behind your entitlement for comfort and convenience, and try to immerse yourself in our natural wonder.

Value that experience that can’t be had anywhere else. You can manage your own experience, without compromise, without the government patting you on the back and saying “You’re a real Canadian now!” Make this more than a reprise of a Black Friday sale.

 

Think radicals like me shouldn’t have so much to say about Parks Canada? Then get in on this federal consultation on the Parks Canada Agency Act, because you’re fucking right that I’m bringing my opinion: http://www.letstalkparkscanada.ca/

Ala Buzreba & Your Social Media History’s Impact on Our Political Future

To My Future Political Slanderers: Fuck You

Oh boy. I am so psyched right now. I want to share my excitement with you.

Someday, maybe a couple decades out, I will beckon to the call of public life, and may run as a politician (…you know, once my syphilis kicks in, my brain lesions, and I start to lose my mind). It is a noble job, and as participants in a democracy, we all owe each other the thankless job of helping to keep our public systems functioning.

But that job may already be out of my reach. It’s not that in my current perspective politicians appear to be the most disingenuous variety of people on the planet, and I want nothing to do with their circus right now. Nope. It’s because, like millions of Millenials, and the forthcoming millions of post-Millenials, I have an internet history.

Not my browser history, which is kept clean like a serial killer’s murder scene would be. I mean a social media history, that thread of unreal reality which increasingly captures so much of our lives.

The story has already played out—a young political candidate starts making waves because of a historic social media message, and then has to apologize profusely, like they never meant to say it or didn’t know better. In Canada, we have had it happen at least twice in recent elections. Most recently it has involved Ala Buzreba, a candidate in Calgary.

Is what she posted offensive? Mildly to some, severely to others. That is not something I care to debate—the subjectivity of morality is too often overlooked, and for the sake of mainstream political correctness, it is easier just to concede with the whiniest.

What I find most absurd of Buzreba’s ordeal, and many similar ones, is the expectation that is insinuated whenever there is “public outrage” about a political figure’s past. It is absurd to expect our public representatives to be squeaky-clean automatons that say all the right things and have always said all the right things.

It begs the question—is that person even human? Is that person even ready to represent a nebulous, heterogeneous population? Can we really expect a plain white square of tile to represent the multi-coloured, fragmented mosaic that so proudly symbolizes Canada?

While I was thinking about this, I started thinking about my caving experience. It is not extensive. I have been inside one limestone cave in the Rockies one time. I spent a couple hours within, with a guide. I dressed the part, did the deed, and although I will not call myself a cave-diver, I have topically observed it.

So am I ready to lead you on a caving expedition? Would you trust me to safely guide you through each squeeze, around every drop, and to the coolest depths carved by unpredictable natural forces?

You would be a risk-taking adrenalin junkie to agree to that. Caving is dangerous. The people who do it well have hundreds of hours of experience, and have taken huge risks themselves. There are pioneers of various cave systems around the world, who push to the furthest reaches of unexplored caves, know them intimately, and know where the average person without training or experience can go.

The guides I had while caving were experienced like that. My direct guide was from Kentucky, and had risked broken bones and suffocation to understand the threshold between safe and dangerous, sanity and insanity, naivety and caution.

In a similar way, can we really trust a public representative who has not explored humanity’s liminal experiences?

The mainstream says yes.

I say, fuck that.

Humans learn via play. A lot of the time, that includes experimenting. You know, throw a towel around your neck and be a superhero, or set some blocks up then smash them down.

But wait—Jesus, does that child expect to be a politician some day? Did you see the way he knocked down those building blocks?? And that gaudy superhero voice he was using, didn’t it sound a bit like he was making fun of [insert your ethnicity here]? And the way he yelled to his sister that he was going to save her, like the misogynist mansplainer he is and will forever be??

That is an obviously absurd example. To me, it is just as absurd to look back to a teenager’s messages on message boards, news sites, or social media sites. Sometimes, a kid has to say ‘screw the Jews’ to really understand that they do not feel that way at all. And sometimes, a kid will use a commonly-used cliché, however brash, to get their point across (e.g. “Your  mother should have used a coat hanger”).

We expect less from saints—I mean, how many pages of the Christian Bible is taken up by archaic blog posts of a guy who tortured and killed Christians? [That’s the Pauline epistles, for those unfamiliar with Christianity.]

We are electing most politicians to create and review legislation. It is mind-boggling boring shit most of the time. A lot of the fun stuff comes in the interpretation, which technically should not be the job of a legislator. That is the job of the regulatory bodies and the courts, which are not elected in Canada.

How a law can be interpreted is part of the review process, and that is one of the reasons why a legislator needs to have the wildest mind—to anticipate how things can go awry. Consider why Dexter was so good at evading detection…and alternately, why Dexter was so good at blood splatter analysis. The cliché says something like ‘the best policemen were the best criminals’ (Frank Abagnale is a great example).

A poet needs access to as many words as possible to do their job well. Even the ones that make your grandmother’s lungs crackle when she gasps. A politician needs access to as many experiences as possible to do their job well. How can any understanding be formed when an experience is completely foreign to a politician? It takes a politician born out of our weird white-bread expectations to create a law like NO ABORTIONS PERIOD. It takes a more experienced, multi-grain-bread kind of politician that understands the complexities and says, well, it’s not as simple as that…

I guess I am disarming, because I hear all kinds of people say all kinds of shit I am sure they wouldn’t want on ‘public record’. Even sitting politicians. You also probably know one person in a profession that has these upright expectations of personal conduct, who has a really harsh racist joke or eye-fucks waitresses or maybe lost their temper in their adolescence and said something they didn’t really mean.

Again, another question is begged: does it matter if it’s public or if it’s in private? Would Buzreba really be that much different of a person if, instead of typing the words into social media, she said them to her friend who was sitting beside her?

As more of our communication becomes digitized and trackable, that is a question that will become more important to debate.

Anyway, for Ala Buzreba, she has already crumbled to the outrage. It is unfortunate, because she had already become so endeared to me…regardless of my thoughts on her party’s platform. Imagine that, a politician who is actually similar to me and the people I know. What a fucking novelty.

The Nietzschean in me is disappointed, yet again. Stand up and own your words, whatever they may be.

Whether you like my thoughts on the matter or not, you will have to hear a lot more about it than what I am quickly typing down right now. Eventually, there will be a time when every single candidate will have been a teenager during the social media era (plus whatever comes next). Great! Another distraction from the actual issues—maybe future debates will be simply quoting re-tweets and tallying the number of views on questionable YouTube videos.

It will take a candidate who owns their past, understands and defends it as a youthful learning, and moves forward (not drop out or bend to false outrage), that will break the static mannequin image of a politician we currently have.

So that is why I am excited. Because maybe that candidate will be me—it will have to be one of us, sooner or later. And I am saving some detractor hours of work digging through my past with this one blog post. Please thank me when you begin your line of questioning or write that editorial.

In Memoriam: Streetsville Jason (Ralph Faustino)

I live a long way away from Streetsville (Mississauga), Ontario now, and it has been some time since I wandered the streets like I used to. As much as that time and place shaped me, I have also moved on.

So it was strange when I was asked me about ‘Black Kramer’ yesterday. If I remembered him. Considering the inquirer never lived in Streetsville and had only ever visited twice—and had never seen Black Kramer herself—I was shocked that she remembered enough to alert me to the Facebook post she saw about the man who was widely identified as ‘Streetsville Jason’.

[Note: Née Ralph Faustino, I have a vague memory of someone telling me his name was Ralph and me thinking it was a joke because even now he doesn’t strike me as a Ralph—a.k.a. Black Kramer because of his tall, slim build and upright hair that I see has since become dreadlock’d. Out of respect, I will refer to him as Ralph going forward…]

Of course I remembered the man. And I had apparently painted a significant enough portrait in her mind that when she saw the post, she remembered too.

But Ralph was like that.

In my teenage years, the man was ubiquitous. At any given time, he could be found floating along Queen Street. He was like an electron—his exact position could never be known until he was observed, and even then, it would differ from one observer to the next. People would talk about encountering Ralph outside the Masonic Lodge the same night that other people would mention they saw him at the Second Cup on Main Street.

I don’t have many solid memories of conversations with Ralph, although some of that is attributable to my state of mind at the time. Like most people, I remember giving him change for a coffee, or cigarettes and a lighter. On at least one occasion, I smoked a joint with him.

[Note: It is irresponsible to share psychoactive drugs with a person suffering from a mental illness…I understand that almost a decade later, so please refrain from any lectures…]

And whenever I imagine the intersection of Queen Street and Thomas Street, the image in my mind is never vacant—it’s occupied by Ralph, in his long coat, shuffling along the sidewalk, maybe even mumbling a little to himself.

In a way, I feel a little guilty about his whole situation because as a teenager he was a novelty. He was an aloof, token ‘homeless’ guy who popped up like Rob Schneider in Adam Sandler movies.

But he obviously suffered from some sort of mental illness. As stoic as he may have appeared, I would guess he was not living in that group home on Thomas Street because he was living his full potential. There are rumors he was a professor, an author, and a father. But the man most of us knew or saw was a humble flâneur, sometimes lively, sometimes detached.

Those rumors of Ralph’s past life could be true—but even if they are not, Ralph was, in a way, a professor, an author, and a father. Just not in the traditional sense.

It is a bittersweet gesture to have so many people pitch-in to try to get a commemorative bench for Ralph. If the community had shown the same coordinated support when he was alive, who knows what turn his life could have taken.

But it is too easy to look back at what we should have done. I think anyone who encountered Ralph was humbled by him. I am sure there would have been the typical ignorant douchebags who made fun of him or gave him a hard time, but I think most of us treated him with the dignity and respect due to any human being. We did what little we could to help his day be a little better. Without knowing it, that made us a little better too.

If his manuscripts are ever found, and they are not already published, and it seems unlikely he will land a bigger publisher…I will happily fund the print & distribution of his work. If they are anything like Ralph himself, they probably have a lot to teach us about being decent human beings.

#BoycottTims …Or, You Know, Whatever.

#BoycottTims

On Media Literacy, Slacktivism, and Resiliency

So why are you boycotting Tim Hortons today? Is it because they aired ads by Enbridge? Or is it because they pulled those ads? Or are you the usual mass of morning commuters I see every day, at the five Tim Hortons in my city, who don’t really give a fuck and just want their sugary cream to start their day?

If you live in Canada, or have ever visited (even just our airports), you will understand that Tim Hortons is a part of our national identity. I don’t understand how that happened, but I imagine it’s a lot like how McDonald’s is a symbol of Americanism around the world (and consequently, a symbol of its expansionism).

And maybe it is this façade of nationalism that makes people think we have a right to protest at every misgiving Tim Hortons Inc. makes (except the fate of its founder). I mean, it’s not like we have real political issues that can actually affect our lives, right? Nonsense. Tim Hortons aired an ad in its in-store TVs. Ads from Enbridge Inc. About how energy is needed to run those TVs, and brew coffee, and start up the SUVs packed in the parking lot that will drive our fat asses wherever we are going to continue our consumer ways.

There is clearly a debate that can be had about the pro-oil propaganda from Enbridge. Just like any advertisement, a viewer needs to approach it with some media literacy.

I remember in the 1990’s, TV (and particularly kids TV) was flooded with messaging about being conscious of what we see in the media. Remember the house hippo?

So it would be understandable if a contingent of people on one side of the ‘oil debate’ were standing in line at Tim Hortons, saw the ad, and said, “Fuck this. I’m not shopping here anymore.”

But in addition to making the direct, personal action of avoidance, a group called SumOfUs started a petition. I don’t know who they are and don’t care to research, because I have a feeling that they were just itching to start some shit, and they found some low hanging fruit with Enbridge’s ad campaign.

After 30,000 signatures, Tim Hortons executives considered the impact to their social license and pulled the ad.

Then the polar opposite happened. There was a social media fury calling for a boycott because Timmy’s pulled the ads. It even entered the realm of politicos (should be a red flag that this is bullshit).

And maybe some of this situation has to do with our desperate news cycle giving social media too much credit. The precedent has been set long before this issue, but I would hope that every time a media figure wants to write/say that there has been a social media flurry, there is a careful editor who is considering whether that qualifies as hyperbole.

The line I am trying to understand, though, is the one between media literacy and a sense of entitlement to complain something away with an exceptionable minority (30,000 signatures represents 0.08% of the Canadian population, assuming that all signees were Canadian).

It probably begins with our (relatively new yet) false notion that corporations are required to be ethical entities. And I mean ethical beyond following regulations and performing due diligence. You know the ethical I am talking about—the new moral norms that are expected by the politically correct, without excuse or exception.

Toms Shoes are a good example. I find a lot of people who wear the shoes will go out of their way to let you know they are wearing Toms. Because they have done something good. They basically donated a free pair of shoes to someone in need. Nevermind that the person receiving those shoes may have been the poor desperado who I saw jump a guy for his car in Buenos Aires, or that fashionable stick-up kid who tried to jump a tourist in La Boca on camera. It does not matter that we become totally removed from the good deed, because we received the same warm fuzzies regardless.

And it makes sense. Why would I buy a regular pair of shoes, when I am essentially buying two with Toms Shoes? It is a boon for that corporation to play the ‘ethical’ angle.

But nobody should forget that the central tenet of any corporation is to maximize profits for shareholders. I am not arguing that this is not an absurd notion; I am just saying that that is the reality that these corporations live in.

For us to feel good about ‘aligning ourselves with a company that aligns with our values’ is just an empty marketing ploy, and you are just as much a fool as someone who buys a sweater because the logo is dope.

There are obvious exceptions to my maxim, like blood diamonds and child labour, but in those situations, they are not issues to be dealt with by petitioning and hashtagivism, but by regulators who can set out the rules by which those corporations operate. [Note: Joseph Kony is still free, and it is Interpol, not his lack of social media clout, which has him on the lamb]

For example, many corporations don’t dump untreated and untested effluent directly into our major rivers anymore. They don’t do this because they are concerned that a bunch of kids with expensive phones will start hashtagging some clever complaint. It is because there are legal requirements that have tangible and reliable consequences (unlike boycotts, which are typically wishy-washy and ephemeral at best). And in places where dumping still occurs, it is because the applicable regulator has not set out legislation prohibiting it.

Not that I am saying that we are at the mercy of legislators, who themselves are heavily swayed by large corporations. But I am saying that when only ~60% of us vote in any given election, we are effectively letting those corporations continue to have the sway they do.

Let’s not wade into politics too much, though.

This is about one corporation who paid another to air some ads on in-store screens…and the First World whining that resulted.

The situation reminds me of some people’s reactions to news media—for example, the CBC for my conservative co-workers. Any story featured on the CBC, regardless of its validity, is always qualified by, “Yeah but it’s the CBC”, implying that their liberal bias plays into their reporting (vice versa applies to Sun Media). Like I tell them, I am perfectly okay engaging in news media where I can read the bias. The real danger is in news media where you can’t read the bias. That’s when the Bernaysian doctors are spinning at peak performance.

[Fun Research Aside! Check out Section 8 of this 2014 U.S. Act of Congress]

Similarly, I am more comfortable with stepping into a business by my own will and encountering an advertisement which I can clearly identify as propaganda. And I can understand that one company was paid to advertise another company. Tim Hortons Inc. wants to make money as much as Enbridge Inc. They are more akin to each other than Tim Hortons is to the Canadian identity.

This boycott will soon be forgotten. What should never be forgotten is that if we want to maintain any remnants of free thought, each individual has to build up a resiliency to media campaigns. Instead of feeling so threatened by an ad that we need to stomp our feet and create a ‘social media frenzy’, we need to become resilient and let it slide off a semi-impermeable mental filter.

If you want to boycott Tim Hortons, don’t take some faux moral outrage stance—do it for the real reason that you shouldn’t go to places like Tim Hortons: their non-nutritional foodstuffs. Boycott Tim Hortons because your risk of diabetes is climbing every time you order a double double and your cholesterol rises for every half-dozen TimBits you crush. Those are real threats.

Onwards & Outwards Into the Physical World

It has been a long time coming.

After the utter failure of Onwards & Outwards as an e-book, I decided to strive with my head to the proverbial wall of rejection and put some resources into putting my words into print.

Dig it? Touch it.
Dig it? Touch it.

In all honesty, I did not even really want to read my novel as an e-book. Call me a Luddite, but I am still unconvinced by long fiction in digital format. Some of my favourite things about reading happen in the visceral aspects of our material world. I was cheating myself by taking the easy shortcut and presenting my words unto the Universe as lifeless kilobytes…instead of dead trees.

Feel free to buy this book to burn it.
Feel free to buy this book to burn it.

You can do a quick search & probably find Onwards & Outwards paperback at your favourite online retailer. If you are in Canada, and specifically western Canada, message me and I can hook you up.

I would love to spend the next few months travelling around, particularly in warmer climes, to do readings and peddle my book  and generally be the vagabond poet I was born to be. But alas. Much like this book, I too am of this material world.

Prices are rising. Get it quick, before your national currency collapses!
Prices are rising. Get it quick, before your national currency collapses!

At best, you can be in on the pyramidal ground floor of a cult classic. Or you can have some emergency 5×7 50 lb crème toilet paper. Either way, I think you will enjoy this.

Trust me. We’re friends damnit.

This is the best list I will ever be part of. *cherished*
This is the best list I will ever be part of. *cherished*

Sir John A Macdonald Turns Two Hundred (a poem)

SIR JOHN A TURNS TWO HUNDRED

I have fond memories of Sir John A Macdonald,

(Canada’s first prime minister

who would have turned 200 today

had he been a vampire).

.

I have fond memories of John Mac—

not the man, of course,

the Hamilton high school.

.

For years my sister danced in competitions there.

(She danced competitively lots of places,

it was a great way for me to travel,

but something I could never appreciate at the time,

helping my mother lug bags of costumes and shoes).

.

She danced in Hamilton annually

at Sir John A High.

I never saw the place with students, only

with sequinned tots and pre-teens

with long fake eyelashes and too much blush

and taut hair and ticking tap shoes.

.

If I tell people now about

how many dance competitions I attended

they say something like,

‘Oh, lucky you, all those girls

and you that handsome boy’.

I was never handsome and rarely was I lucky.

This was no exception.

.

The girls were dolled up so much that they were fake,

or they were mean and called Brodie and me

things like Dork and Dorker,

or Ugly and Uglier,

and I was always the more pejorative one.

.

Brodie’s sister also danced.

We were bored lots together.

One time in New Jersey we spent days running around

whatever bumblefuck suburb we were in.

(We rode with the girls on the bus down there from Toronto,

tormented the whole time,

with the dance teachers smirking on,

thinking we were having fun being made fun of).

.

Those first few times in South Carolina

we made prank phone calls and found every nook in that theatre

and Brodie’s dad decided to take us away for a day,

and we went deep sea fishing,

and I got so sick I spent the whole time trembling in a blanket

beside a garbage can below deck

(I have never been deep sea fishing again).

.

I remember Sir John A High as a sprawling school,

a huge theatre that made it perfect for dance competitions,

and so many levels that it had an escalator.

.

Every year for one weekend the place was crawling

with these little dancers.

If I had been old enough to get high I

would have been so tripped out.

Feathers and flashy fabrics,

Spandex and sparkling glitter.

.

Brodie and I had seen enough dance routines to know how they go.

We had lots of time to wander.

We probably knew these venues better than the architects who built them.

.

At Sir John A we found stairwells and unlocked doorways,

A way onto the roof,

And the maze of its hallways.

.

The first time we found the way out

of the public area we climbed up

the motionless escalator

and scoured the shadowy hallways.

We were still young enough to think

school was a venerated institution,

so being in an unsupervised school

was a thrill we could not fathom.

.

In this one long hallway we found an open locker.

Then another open locker.

All the lockers were unlocked.

They were full of stuff.

Books, papers, binders,

shit left behind by students in a hurry

to get the fuck out for summer vacation.

.

Naturally, we started going through

the strange and exciting finds.

Then we left behind intrigue

and welcomed chaos.

.

We tossed out all the shit from the lockers,

emptied them all out and left the mess

in the darkened hallway.

.

Then we thought we heard someone coming.

We ran the hell out of there.

That was how we found the way onto the roof.

.

When we thought the coast was clear we

tiptoed back through that disastrous hallway.

.

That was Canada, there:

Treasures left orderly in good faith,

scattered by disenfranchised

and bored explorers in a new territory,

lining the empty hallway,

becoming a tousled tiling

that made sense in its own way.

.

That was how I knew Sir John A.

Happy birthday.

(And sorry about the mess we have made).

Taking a Trip Through Love Canal: The Real Rises (Part Two)

I woke up tired. I had left the conference’s inaugural party early, but co-workers had also decided to leave…only to initiate a pub crawl. They talked about hockey and hunting and (personal) history, things I could not speak to cleverly, nevermind when I was getting progressively drunker. I was about 128 ounces of beer into the night when I made the twenty minute walk back to my hotel in the crisp mountain air.

Fortunately the conference had a full hot breakfast. And I wasn’t late, although my hair was wet.

My mind still resounded the chorus from the night before: “Everyone is so full of shit.”

And I still believed it that morning. Seeing everyone all cleaned up and tucked in made me existentially nauseous. So many fake fucking smiles that morning. And dull-headed small talk, hiding mouthfuls of mushy eggs behind polite hands or bunched napkins. I felt like shit and just wanted to eat, but I had to be polite and pretend to give a damn about the man from some company who did something something.

Thankfully there was a plenary speaker that morning. And she was the best thing that could have happened to me that day—maybe even in a long time.

I did not know Lois Gibbs before seeing her presentation. I did know about Love Canal, the disaster of the the 20th century that was so close to my home, and so close to absurdity, that it was one of the sparks that led me to my philosophical position…that eventually led me to the environmental sciences…that I used to be a humanist, until I realized that humanity was 0.00001% of the picture.

If you do not know about Love Canal, educate yourself. It is incredible, but all too real. In short, an unfinished trench (intended to be a transportation canal in the late 19th century) on the shores of the Niagara River became Hooker Chemical’s dump for toxic waste—that’s right: Hookers were dumping toxic waste in the Love Canal—I am not shitting you. In 1953, that waste was capped, and a subdivision was built over it (lubricated by Hooker Chemical’s land sale to the Niagara Falls School Board for $1).

Lois Gibbs was a mother of two children who lived in that subdivision. In her presentation, she described life in the LaSalle neighbourhood of Niagara Falls, New York. It was the typical white suburban neighbourhood you hear about in so many stories. Children played in the parks, families met for backyard barbecues, fathers got their crew-cut hairstyles at the barbershop. Nothing was out of the ordinary for upstate New York in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Lois then started describing the children in more detail. How her son started becoming allergic to many things, and started to become constantly ill. He developed epilepsy, asthma, and a low white blood cell count. Her daughter, similarly, was always sick. The other children in the neighbourhood were showing odd illnesses or were born with weird birth defects.

She never said this part, but I am sure there were quiet nights where Lois wondered what she had done wrong…days when she was paralyzed with wondering why her children were suffering so much. This subtext—the break in her voice—broke my heart.

Lois Gibbs and her daughter, 1978.

But in 1978, two reporters from the Niagara Falls Gazette started investigating the history of Love Canal—the historic toxic dump that was now the location of the elementary school and was surrounded by hundreds of suburban homes. They found disturbingly high levels of toxins in long forgotten about sumps. They exposed the 21,000 tons of toxic waste that was the foundation of the school and the neighbouring park. And they wrote a story about it.

Lois Gibbs being heard.

When Lois read this story, things changed in her life. She was, in her own words, a quiet, normal home maker. But in 1978, she transformed from Mrs. Cleaver to a radical community leader. She organized the community, and began rallying for the city, for the state, for anybody to address the issues at Love Canal. She conducted surveys about birth defects in the area around Love Canal, and investigated the area’s history obsessively. She documented unidentified waste seeping to surface, and sinkholes where rusted barrels of waste lay exposed. She recounted stories of children playing with the waste, picking it up and chasing each other around. She rallied Hooker Chemical and the government to act, but they both ignored her.

Lois Gibbs hard at work protecting her children and the people of Love Canal (I just love this photo).

Lois made a poignant point about risk and the value of people (and really hit her stride in her presentation). Hooker Chemical was able to say that the risk of contamination was negligible, and even if there was contamination, the value to clean it up would outweigh the cost of leaving it in place. Which essentially meant that the lives it was endangering were not worth the money to clean their mess up. And even though the government, in theory, is an institution to protect people from this kind of blundering greed, Lois and the people of Love Canal were ignored.

Until Nixon’s best legacy, the Environmental Protection Agency, visited in 1979. An administrator noted the same things Lois and her organization were capturing. New York’s Health Commissioner did the same. He declared a state of emergency.

“Will I see age 7”

If you were pregnant or had children under the age of 2 in a specifically-defined area, the government was willing to pay for you to move, temporarily. But as soon as you were outside of those parameters, funding was done, and you were back in the vicinty. These were working class families who did not have the funds to move willy-nilly, and their houses, now, were essentially worthless. Their choices were limited.

The state condemned the school, and properties directly bordering the school. Jimmy Carter got involved, and directed emergency funds to address the issue. They hired geologists to try to figure out where the problem was, and how to resolve it.

To a room of environmental remediation professionals, what they undertook in the very early 1980’s was crude. It was the equivalent of early aviators strapping balsa wood planks to their arms and jumping off hills. It just wasn’t enough. And, like they still do now, they shrugged and accepted the status quo and said, ‘This is the best we can do.’

There are book fulls of history about Love Canal. Lois did her best to reduce it to an hour and a half presentation. I will not tell you the whole history, you can read much more about it yourself. It is the perfect case study of human error, and a malicious pride to hide that error. But Lois shared insights from an on-the-ground perspective that are not so easily transferred in history.

Lois Gibbs and the green chain link fence that still stands at Love Canal.

Like the green chain link fence. When they finally started work on the Love Canal site, the company and state erected a 10’ green chain link fence. For Lois, this became a symbol of the Us vs. Them mentality that had characterized their struggle. It became an ever-present reminder that there were things that the people in the Love Canal area did not know about Love Canal. Lois touched on the symbol many times, emphasizing how much of an imposing figure it became in the debate. There was the knowing, cover-your-ass rich people on the inside, and the unknowing, sick and poor people on the outside.

Facing down the pigs who protected the green chain link fence and not the people.

For me, far from Love Canal in time and space, the green fence had a metaphysical twinge. First, and most simply, it represented the need for scientists to communicate better. Later in the conference I watched a presentation by a gentleman with two masters degrees. I am sure he had all sorts of knowledge. But he had a debilitating stutter. His half-hour presentation should have taken ten minutes, and content suffered as a result. Knowledge is useless if you cannot communicate it.

Secondly, and more mystically, the fence appeared to me like a shortcut of consciousness—a shortcut that we feel as necessary because of our increasingly superficial understanding of an increasing number of things. Think about the subway or train: I don’t need to think about standing back from a moving train, because there is a yellow line that does the thinking for me. These shortcuts of consciousness also represent a loss of presence, something that was evident by all the heads bent to their smartphones during Lois’ presentation.

But maybe the shortcuts are not such bad things. I mean I had met Lois, indirectly and unnamed, in grade eleven, in a one-page photocopy my World Issues teacher passed around (I still have it). He lectured on Love Canal in a simplified way, just enough for us to get the gist without getting caught up in what I now know are the complications of liability. Love Canal, when I was seventeen, was a shortcut of consciousness—a shortcut to my environmental consciousness. It was the same shortcut that had roused such bitterness and outrage the night before, at all the phonies who could not possibly be serious about doing good work for the planet.

But they were human. I am too (unfortunately or not). I am not my awakened teenage self who wanted to tear down fences. Sometimes, now, I put up fences too. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.” I am human. I hate shortcuts sometimes. I make shortcuts the rest of the time.

Love Canal was one of the sparks that lighted my path in the environmental sciences. It was invigorating and inspiring to hear about it first-hand from someone like Lois Gibbs. Lois has gone on to good work for lots of people who are fucked in similar situations. And I hope that I can say the same. I have that aspiration, at least. Those phonies probably do not.