Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The value of human life

Sometimes you read a sentence without really paying attention, nothing but a sequence of word in a context: as long as you get the general gist of it, you keep on reading. Other times though, you read a sentence and it strikes a chord, exacting a deep emotional response. This just happened to me as I was reading an article on Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime. The article quoted the Khmer Rouge as stating, in referring to people (usually urban and educated) they perceived as dangerous : "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss.". This sentence (in both senses of the word) hit me like a ton of bricks; in only a few words, it captured all the inhumanity of this political regime. How can a person, group, organization or nation get to that point? How can human life have so little value? Of course this is not the only example, reading this brought to mind another quote attributed to a certain Arnaud Amaury, a 13th century papal legate, who said to an army trying to differentiate heretics and catholics : "Tuez-les tous, Dieu reconnaîtra les siens." (Kill them all, God will recognize his own). How can rational human beings make such statements? How can they be so emotionally detached to not consider the full impact of their words? It's hard to say. Certainly considering the victims as a whole instead of individuals would bring some level of detachment. Also, believing that somehow the end justifies the means; thinking that a goal, what ever it is, is more important than the damage caused in achieving it.
No matter what means is used to shelter one's self from emotional involvement, it still comes to a point where people weigh human life against something else; how can that be done? How can anyone, regardless of name, rank, position or function have the authority to decide the importance of someone else's life. Would an army general risk his own life in his battle plan? Would a judge hand out a death sentence if he was himself found guilty of the capital crime? Would a Health Management Organization (HMO) representative deny himself necessary life saving health care? Would an aeronautic engineer willingly get on board of a prototype he knows is dangerous?
No great answers here... just food for thought. I am not really sure a life can have the same value in every one's eyes. It's perceived worth certainly seems to diminish with emotional distance: I would be devastated with the death of one of my children yet I can hear news of thousands of children dying in Darfur and not feel the same way.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Go green... get married!

OK, so how the two concepts relate may not obvious at first glance but is it true? The thought just popped up in my mind and I felt it was worth exploring. Is married life (whether religious, civil or common law; after all I am an all-inclusive kind of guy) better for the environment? In order to assess this, I think it's necessary to find a common thread to allow comparison. I believe this can be achieved by looking at the ecological footprint of a normal day for a married man, say George and a single man, say Tony.

The Morning

George's alarm clock plays a gentle music at around 6:30. He quickly wakes up, gives his wife a kiss, jumps out of bed, has a short shower and gets dressed. He then has a well balanced breakfast (recycling all the packaging), brushes his teeth, prepares his and his wife's lunch and gets ready to leave for work.

Tony's alarm clock blasts out a buzzing sound at 7:15 but Tony, having stayed up late the night before, hits the snooze button a few times before finally deciding to get up. When he does, he notices the woman in his bed. After trying to retrace his actions of the night before, he vaguely remembers being in a bar and talking to a woman that looked a bit like Mario Lemieux with a moustache. Looking again at the woman in his bed, he figures out that he did indeed score with the help of the magnificent 66 look alike. He proceeds to wake up "Mario" (Tony can't recall her name) and hands her 20$ for the cab fare. After ejecting her from the house, Tony gets into the shower. To get rid of the "rye and coke" fumes, he makes sure the shower is really hot and stays in it for a hell of a long time. After the shower, Tony gets dressed, reusing dirty clothes as he hasn't had time to go to the dry cleaner to pick up his stuff (Tony hates doing the laundry). Being late, he runs out of the house without having breakfast.

Outcome: With the snoozing, long hot shower, the taxi, and the overuse of dry cleaning, Tony's morning is definitely having a greater negative impact on the environment.

The Work day

George takes the bus to work as he feels it gives him time to relax before starting his work day (he usually reads discarded day old papers he finds at the bus stop because, as he says, "the world can't have changed that much in a day"). When he arrives, George has a coffee in his weekly cleaned personal cup. His day is mostly spent working on his computer or participating in meetings (via phone conference, if possible). At lunch, he and a couple of friends go out for a walk. When the day is over, he returns home on the express bus.

Tony jumps into his Hummer H1 (similar in size and color to George's bus) and drives like a maniac to make up for lost time. On his way to work , Tony stops by the coffee shop drive-through to pick up a "full fat, full foam latte with 4 sugars" in a doubled Styrofoam cup , and a "mayo on both sides bacon and egg English muffin" (nothing better after a late night!). Once at work, Tony parks his H1 diagonally, taking up two spots (don't want people to scratch his baby). During the day, Tony has at least another 4 or 5 coffees, all in Styrofoam cups. At lunch time, he takes his secretary for a ride in his H1 and, upon reaching his "secret place", gets down and dirty, keeping the motor running (Tony needs the air conditioning and the electric seats to be at his best...). At the end of the day, Tony drives home stopping at the corner store for a bag of chips and a pack of cigarettes.

Outcome: Because of the Hummer, the smoking and the Styrofoam cups, Tony, again, has a much greater impact on the environment.

The Evening

Once home, George and his wife prepare a light dinner and chat about the day's events. After helping his wife with the dishes (using bio soap), George spends some time sorting out his stamp collection. Later on, he and his wife watch a bit of television before heading to bed.

Once home, Tony turns on every light in the house (he hates it when its dark) and eats his chips while watching reruns of WKRP in Cincinnati (he can't get enough of Jennifer). He then takes a power snooze, after which he jumps into the shower to get ready for a night out. Taking his Hummer, he heads for his favorite bar, the Warm and Fuzzy. Although known as a meat market and cougar hangout, Tony enjoys the atmosphere and the "rye and cokes". There, he hits the dance floor and sets his sight on a woman (usually a different one every night, although he has been around the patch once or twice). After a few drinks and some pick up lines (his speciality), he returns home with his "catch of the day".

Outcome: Here again, there is still a noticeable difference between Tony's and George's footprints. The additional shower, the use of the H1, not to mention the broken heart, all impact the environment.

All in all, it is obvious that George's life, although monotonous and lacking sparkle, is a lot greener than Tony's. I feel it's safe to conclude that married life, regardless of all its failings, is much better for the environment. Greenpeace should pay attention to this by initiate a new campaign promoting that young people should get married early and remain married in order to be more ecologically friendly. "Go green... get married" would make a catchy phrase. Combine it with a smart jingle and you would have a winner!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Almost Making History 1

It seems that making history, becoming famous, changing the world is as much about having dumb luck as having great talent, superior intelligence or innate predisposition. There are so many stories of people that just happened to have the right idea, at the right place and at the right time that I decided to write about those that happened to have the wrong idea, at the wrong place or at the wrong time. Note that the names, dates and events have been changed to protect the innocent and ensure their continued anonymity.
This first installment of Almost Making History will focus on Baltazar Stewler. Baltazar Stewler, known as Bar to his friends, was born in the town of Skelmersdale, West Lancashire. He grew up going to school at Brookfield Park Primary School and later at Lathom High School, and learned the facts of life playing along the river Tawd. When he reached his adolescent years, Bar became really interested in music and, after practicing drums on discarded cans and plastic containers for years, finally received his first drum set for his 17th birthday. His father told everyone : "The choice was between buying the drums or having him amputated. The drums were cheaper...". Bar thought of himself as the future Buddy Rich, minus the bad temper. If left alone, he would play drums all day and all night, driving his family, neighbors and dog mad.
Once he felt confident with his playing abilities, Bar started looking for opportunities to play in a band. The music scene was quite effervescent around Skem and bands were often advertising their search for new members in the local paper. Bar went through many adds but finally narrowed his choices down to two: The Philosophers and the Raving Texans. The Philosophers add read something like this:
"A new band for a new era,
The Philosophers need a drummer!
Interested aren't ya?
Just call 44 33 33 22 11 and we'll consider!"
Bar thought the add was quite interesting and had sort of a musicality to it. Also, having decided on his stage name, Bar Stewl, he believed he and The Philosophers were meant to be. Bar scheduled an appointment with the band members and, after a quick tryout, was welcomed on board. The Philosophers had an interesting sound for the time. Their Leader, whose stage name was Socrates, liked to mix German Oom-pah music with a new style called Rock 'n' Roll. There first local hit, popular in bars in and around Liverpool, was a remake of "Ein Prosit". In order to accommodate Bar's talent, they included a drum solo in the song that became the highlight. The Philosophers travelled around Lancashire for a time but were never build on the early success and, finally, disbanded after a few years. While drumming for The Philosophers, Bar became involved with a nice girl from Bold Heath and decided to settle down. Seeing that he couldn't make a decent living with his drums, he went back to school and became a well-respected roofer in Skem (he always said that his drumming technique had a lot in common with hammering).
Having picked The Philosophers, Bar never called the Raving Texans. They ended up recruiting another drummer and changing their name to Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. In the early 60s, they shared a stage in Hamburg with a band called the Beatles. Later on, the Beatles, looking to replace their own drummer, contacted the Hurricanes drummer, Richard Starkey. The rest, as they say, is history.
Some people say Bar has no regrets, others say he never really realized the potential consequences of his choice of band. The fact of the matter is that Baltazar Stewler will forever be forgotten by History while Richard Starkey, also known as Ringo Starr, has become famous around the world.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Just the other day

Just the other day it seems, I was still a kid
Care free in everything I did
Finding comfort in my parents' home
Not giving a thought to a future of my own

But these days are gone
No more pillars in my life
Preventing the sky from falling
Preventing the world from crumbling

Just the other day it seems, I was so passionate
Saw everything as black or white
Willing to sacrifice to a cause
Moving on when it lost its awe

But these days are gone
No more pillars in my life
Preventing the sky from falling
Preventing the world from crumbling

Just the other day is seems, I was fathering
Bringing new life into this world
No longer at the center
Blissful and solemn

But these days are gone
No more pillars in my life
Preventing the sky from falling
Preventing the world from crumbling

In just a few days, I will be old
Watching life slowly halt
Not sure where I will be
Just hoping to be the sum of me

Evolution, ignorance and stupidity

It seems Darwin is still causing a stir! Recent sound bites from the Canadian minister of Science and Technology on whether he believed in evolution and natural selection have certainly put good old Darwin back in the limelight. When a minister equates evolution to wearing comfortable shoes to walk on cement, one wonders what this world has come to.
The polemic surrounding evolution triggered a thought in my mind: are ignorance and stupidity favorable traits? Will Man, over time, become more and more stupid and ignorant to ensure the survival of the race?
Let me lead you through a simple example. Imagine a small tribe living a simple hunter-gatherer lifestyle on a tiny island in the middle of a vast ocean. As the tribe grows, the resources become more and more scarce. This causes a rift in the tribe: a number of tribesmen believe that measures must be put in place to control the tribe's growth to ensure resources remain available for the future, while the rest of the tribesmen believe that resources are limitless and that they can continue to make out like rabbits. Over time, the schism becomes so important the tribe effectively splits in two, creating separate villages on the island. The first village, Darwin, is populated with the tribesmen who believe in controlling population to ensure continued availability of resources. The second village, called Christi, is home to the tribesmen who opt to live life to its fullest, with no desire to think about the future. The villages become entirely independent and life continues on the island. Because of their very nature, the population in both villages grows quite differently. While Darwin remains a small village, more or less as it was when it was founded, Christi grows into a large village and villagers have to go farther and farther out to gather food. At a Christi village council, some tribesmen foment waging war on Darwin to take control of its resources. Over time, the idea takes root and finally Christi attacks, completely destroys Darwin and kills all its tribesmen. After the war, Christi continues to grow, depleting more and more of the island's resources. Although obvious to any outsider that this way of life cannot go on for ever, Christi villagers remain oblivious to that fact.
In this fictional(?) but plausible tale, the character traits of stupidity and ignorance have, in the end, won out over intelligence and foresightedness. We can easily imagine that to keep on living the same way, without noticing, let alone understanding the consequences, Christi villagers will need to become more and more stupid and ignorant over time.
So, going back to our minister of Science and Technology, I guess we should celebrate his ignorance and stupidity as they are the dominant traits of our society and be happy that the cream did indeed make it to the top.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The door

The door is there waiting
Silent yet beckoning
I know I must choose
Go or stay
It can't be any other way

The door is there waiting
Solid and unforgiving
A point of no return
Once passed
Forever crossed

The door is there waiting
Sultry and enticing
A blind choice
On this side solace
On the other promise

The door is there waiting
Opaque and misleading
Choice is not a requisite
But it cannot be ignored
It's part of my world

The door is there waiting
Obsessive and unrelenting
Blindness is bliss
Go on disappear
I suffer no need

The door is there waiting...

The Pilgrim and the Condom

So, according to the almighty sex expert, Pope Benedict XVI, condoms lead to riskier sexual behaviors and therefore contribute to the spread of AIDS. Wow, talk about insight. His answer is that fidelity and abstinence are the true ways of halting the spread of the disease. I can't argue with this logic it is certainly true that if one doesn't screw around and one keeps his weapon in its holster, there is very limited risk of become HIV positive. But, to accept this logic, you must accept the premise that all human beings are capable of long term fidelity and abstinence. History has proven time and again that this is not the case. Actually, even the pope's own have been known to dip their stick now and again, with no regard for their vow of celibate chastity. Knowing that, the Pope still expects mere mortals to be able to do what so-called men of god cannot?
If this wasn't so tragic it would actually be funny. Maybe the condom comment was meant to refer to the universally known parable "The Pilgrim and the Condom". If I remember correctly, the story goes something like this:
A poor pilgrim was walking along a sun drenched road. As he was reaching the apex of a hill, he noticed a man struggling with a small package. Coming closer, the Pilgrim said: "Man, what is the cause of your difficulties?". The man, looking a bit surprised by the pilgrim's question answered: "I am about to rape a woman in the village below but wish to wear a condom to ensure I don't catch anything". The pilgrim was taken aback. After giving some thought to the situation, he said to the man: "Man, don't you know that a condom cannot protect you? Only god can do that!". Upon hearing that, the man dropped the package, fell to his knees and prayed for god's protection; after which he ran down the hill and started raping the woman. With the man gone, the pilgrim picked up the package, opened it and removed the two condoms it contained. His feet were in bad shape from having walked so many miles and he saw the condoms as a decent alternative to socks. He therefore sat down and proceeded to put them on. Although it was difficult to slide his feet into then, he found that they provided a comfortable fit. As he started back on his way, he began to slide downhill on his lubricated socks. He slid faster and faster until finally the condoms pierced, causing him to brake suddenly and fly head first into the village below. His flight came to an abrupt end when his face met the man's butt, naked for the occasion as he was still busy taking care of business.
The moral of this parable is threefold: first, it's easy to give advice when you don't having to deal with the consequences; second is you should always practice what you preach; and third is you should never put your nose is other people's business.

The Lost Generation

Reading an article in the paper yesterday, it suddenly seemed obvious: for all intents and purposes, we are dealing with a lost generation; lost for lack of discipline, lost for being spoiled, lost for having never heard "no", lost for ever being adolescent. The article discussed how police forces around the province are having difficulty with their new recruits. It mentioned that these recruits do not respect authority, argue with their superior, are not willing to accept their assignments, etc.
That's really scary but, in a way, not surprising. It's been brewing in families all over the world for a few decades now. Parents, too busy with their own pursuit of wealth and happiness, have forgotten that children need to be raised. It is so much easier to be buddy-bubby than it is to enforce discipline; so much easier to buy a new toy than to spend time and get involved... The end result of this is that we, as a society, are faced with a generation of eternal teenagers, unable to mature, expecting everything but not willing to invest anything.
I know this is a generalization; that there are great young people out there, but the fact is there are more leeches now than ever before. Every family has a story of a young adult who still lives with his parents, not because he (or she) cannot afford to live on his (or her) own, but just because it's so nice to have mom and dad do the groceries, cook dinner, make the bed and do the laundry....
I am concerned with our future. We can't afford to not only loose productivity from able bodied youth but also have to support them, over and above those who already need to be supported.
What's the answer? I really don't have a clue. There is no quick fix for a problem that's been in the works for 40+ years. The solution must start with the parents but it is difficult to expect the lost generation will be better parents than their own.
My hope is that, over time, they will learn to become responsible, productive members of society. Otherwise, I am condemned to work until I die because there will be no one to replace me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Challenge to myself: is it possible to write a text using only clichés, these sound bites that are so abused, they no longer really mean anything.

I feel up to the challenge, I will take the bull by the horns and give it 110%. After all, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. If I stick to the game plan, everything should work out in the end. Just let the chips fall where they because, if at first you don't succeed, try and try again. As my mother use to say, practice makes perfect. So, let me roll up my sleeves and I will take no prisoners. To hell with the collateral damages, I will forge ahead. I know I must take it one step at a time. So, here we go. If I fail miserably, I need to remember that every cloud has a silver lining. On the other end, if I do succeed, I must not rest on my laurels. Life is like a box of chocolate!

The other day I saw my friend Robert, he looked depressed. The following conversation ensued:
- Hey Rob, you look down in the dumps!
- Hey Sabin, I guess you could say that. The shit hit the fan at work today. I learned the hard way that the boss is always right, even when he's wrong.
- Come on Rob, something good always come out of something bad. Maybe it's time for a change. You could tell your boss to take his job and shove it.
- I wish I could, but money doesn't grow on trees. If I bite the hand that feeds me, I will be in the doghouse at home. I have mouths to feed you know.
- Yeah, I see your point. Damn if you do, damn if you don't. Just let the dust settle at work and see where you stand.
- My sentiments exactly. In a week it will all be water under the bridge. It's just that right now I feel like I'm up shit creek.
- Lay low, keep a watchful eye and don't rock the boat. Better safe than sorry.
- Look who's calling the kettle black! You're like the poster child for people who stir the pot.
- Come on Rob, that was eons ago. I was young and innocent. And it wasn't my fault if my boss could talk the talk but could not walk the walk, so I spoke my mind and was given my walking papers...

Wow, thought this would be really difficult but actually, it's not that hard! There are so many clichés, someone could write a whole book with them. Now I know how athletes can talk for hours and say nothing! Since I mastered the art of using clichés, I should work on inventing a new one. Watch for it in a future post!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Man's greatest invention

Weird thought bouncing around in my head today. I keep coming back to asking myself what I would consider to be man's greatest invention. Not an easy one. For one thing, "greatest" needs to be defined: does it mean the most important in terms of use, impact on the human race, universality, etc. It's probably a mix of all of these and others I haven't thought of yet.

So, considering this, what great inventions come to mind? Certainly the wheel is important, it is still used everywhere using more or less the same basic architecture as in its very beginning. Writing is another key one; it certainly developed independently in many societies, showing that it is an essential part of our humanity. If we go back further, we could say speech and vocabulary; after all we couldn't communicate otherwise. All these are great in their own right and I am sure we could think of hundreds more to add. That being said, I think Man's greatest invention, in terms of universality, impact and usage must be the concept of God. Every society, ethnic group, tribe I know of has gods of some form or another. These gods serves many purposes: blamed for misfortunes, praised for good fortunes, begged for mercy or victory, etc. The concept of god has help many generations of human beings navigate through life's events, confront its trials and tribulations, in a word, make sense of their existence. As inventions go, it's a pretty good one. I wish I had a patent on that concept! Imagine the riches!

So, if at a certain level the concept of god is a valued invention, it looses it value when it becomes a cause for war, a way to justify ignorance, a means to segregate people. Gods were invented to help people in their daily lives, not to take those lives away or make them miserable. We should go back to the true reason why gods were created and find some common ground between all religions, accepting that none of them have exclusive rights on the truth.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wasting Time

Picture this: you're sitting quietly, watching this documentary on the rise and fall of the stucco ceilings. At first you think the subject matter is quite promising but, when the expert starts explaining that stucco stalactites in 70's basements were actually phallic representations, you suddenly realize you wasted 2 hours of your life... Two hours you would never get back or, at best, would be added on to the end of your life which you may not want to extend anyway (who wants an additional 2 hours of agony in a hospital?)! Like most people, I don't like wasting my time but I often only realize that I've wasted it after the fact, once things are said and done.

Time wasting was not always an issue with me. When I was young, I could spend hours playing with my GI Joe or waiting to catch a glimpse of my cute neighbor. But, when I was around 16 or so, I was really hit hard by the lyrics of Pink Floyd's song "Time". At one point it says: "... shorter of breath and one day closer to death...". Wow, really powerful stuff. Give me that any day over "My love will go on..."! How many songs can be written with the word love? I know love is important but isn't there a limit? Considering that sleep and food are as important if not more so than love, why aren't there more songs about that? Something like "...Fell asleep on the couch, woke up to the sounds of Lawrence Welk...". Back to the point though, I can actually remember where I was when I understood the full meaning of those lyrics (driving west on Boulevard Forest, near the Hospital, on a clear spring day). Life is finite, there is no escaping that fact but, when your a 16 year old kid, realizing it is a rude awakening. From that point on, I tried to use my time as if it was something precious, although I must admit my prioritization was not always the best.

Now that I think of it though, wasting time in itself may sometimes be a worthwhile. On a few occasions, wasting time has allowed my to get my mind off of life's usual crap or, just for a time, made me feel like a kid again; and that can't be all that bad!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Vanquishing the demon that haunts you

Someone told me a long time ago that, unless you face up to it and vanquish it, the demon(s) that haunts you will always come back. Avoidance, transfer and the likes may be great for risk management but they don't help when it comes to getting rid of that evil. This mean spirit can take many forms: for some its alcohol, for others it's gambling, sex, food, authority, family, neighbours, etc. For me, it's Ontario drivers... I know, this may sound strange but it's true; whether I need to get somewhere in a hurry or am taking a Sunday drive on some lonely road, I always end up right smack in the back of an Ontario driver. It's now at a point where I am considering having "Yours to Discover" etched on my tombstone... For those of you who don't know Ontario drivers, let's just say that they tend to drive slow in the left lane, accelerate when the road is straight and brake like hell in a curve. Most people probably wouldn't even give it a second thought. I, on the other hand, get angry, frustrated, aggressive.

I know I shouldn't react that way but I just can't help it. I need to find a way of slaying that dragon but don't really know how. I try to tell myself that they are not doing this just to piss me off, that they have as much a right as I to use the highway, that they are doing their best but, in the end, the result is the same: my blood boils! I do recognize the problem doesn't lie with all 4 million or so Ontario drivers but with the guy driving my car (read: me); I believe that's a good start. Next step may be to join ODA (Ontario Driver Anonymous), if such a group exists...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The time may be ripe for a human race vasectomy

Everywhere I look, listen, smell, touch, taste and proprioceptionize, someone seems to be telling us what a screwed up world we will be leaving our children and our children's children. In a way, I imagine these people are right. With pollution, changes in weather, national and personal debt, overuse of Earth's resources, ozone layer, overpopulation, diseases, war, terrorism and all; it's hard to imagine things will ever get better.

So why keep having children? It certainly seems like a valid question. The obvious first answer is that we really like having sex! The less obvious second answer is that we are genetically programmed to have children; in essence it is our only real reason for living. The "going out on a limb", not politically correct third answer is that, at least in Western societies, having children is the thing one does after having bought the BMW and the house with the 3-car garage to ensure one doesn't grow old alone. Are any of the reasons important enough to keep having children? What if we decided to vasectomize every male on the planet by some mean or other? What if we could ensure every man is sterilized before reaching his reproductive years? This way we could go out with a bang, consume like mad without having to think of the future.

Something inside me is saying that it would be morally wrong to do this but then, isn't it morally wrong to bring a baby in this world knowing what the future holds? Maybe that's the answer. Do we really know what the future holds? Can we, with certainty, say there is no hope? What if people facing the Black Death century had stopped having children? How about after WWI or when Genghis Kahn was knocking at our doors? Throughout our history, there are hundreds upon hundreds of periods where we could have decided to stop going but we did not because of one reason alone: hope.

When it comes down to it, I think in every generation there are people concerned with the world we will be leaving behind for the following generation. We need to listen to them and make sure we try our best but, in the end, there is always hope.