October 23, 2008

It's What You Do With It!!!!!!! (Part 4)

We Whistle While We Work
(or Ch.6.4)

People need to get paid. This much we know. Without getting paid, there is little hope that we have in enjoying the finer things in life: that 2500 sq ft dream house, annual vacations to the Domincan Republic, romantic dinners on the lakeside, 18% table cream instead of just coffee whitener, new shoes for our kids in the fall, and Thursday afternoon drinking at Dewey's. But it's the idea that so many people are willing to sacrifice so many of the finer things in life in exchange for that extra few dollars that gets to me. Some people thrive on the recognition of being an outstanding worker. This reinforces their desire to work more. Produce greater results. Get that fatter paycheque. I have 8 days of classes to go to before I am finished my degree and am expected to enter the workforce. I just need some clue in deciding what in the world I should do about it!

So this blog looks at a few things:

  • the appreciation of workers with formal educations vs non-formally educated workers

  • people that are comfortable with working "less desirable jobs", but still have a socially relaxing and relatively low-stress atmosphere, sufficient job satisfaction, and a quality of life that it provides them with enough things to get by day-to-day with a smile on their face.

  • the hours of work per week needed to support a certain lifestyle, and the effect of working those types of hours
  • working towards the preservation and improvement of our environment, rather than the destruction and exploitation of it

  • who benefits from this work, really?

  • do-gooders and volunteer workers & wanting to make an impact but ask for nothing

I get a large appreciation for how life is lived, could be lived, and should be lived by looking at my own past & present decisions, actions, experiences. Take now for instance. Rather than studying for a midterm that accounts for 30% of my mark, I am working on my blog that really only about 4 or 5 people ever read. No doubt that more time could have been put in studying for this/any midterm, in reality, a person has to really pick & choose what they want to be doing, where & when to do it, who they are going to be doing it with (or for), and lastly, why they feel that this work being done is actually going to be worthwhile in the end.

All along, I have made decisions to "work" at my engineering degree, so long as I e v e n t u a l l y pass the required courses. In hindsight, it really is a crying shame that I missed Raised Fist at Red's about 5 years ago to the day, because of the emphasis that I had placed towards working on my engineering degree and studying for that statics mid-term. It is with the work ethic demanded from the engineering program in combination with my acknowledgement of the extent of corruption & inequality in the world, that I now look at what work is a lot more extensively: who does this work benefit when and where it is finally directed, and at what costs to the individual, family, community, or society result from this work? For every 600 engineers that enter the workforce upon graduation every year, how many of them will find work that is not only A) self-satisfying, but will also satisfy the needs of: B) their economy, C) their employer, D) their planet, E) their family? And how often do each of these things work against eachother?? And which of them will govern??

There are a lot of people out there who have landed themselves "respectable" jobs. Respectable, in the sense that society appreciates having the person's skills used in a way that extends out to both the social and physical infrastructure of the community. Social infrastructure would include things like working to establish a healthy foundation for health/childcare providers, teachers, non-profit support groups; whereas physical infrastructure would include those of us who work to build roads, strip malls, and water treatment plants. However, since any and all of these types of work generate wealth & cash flow, Harper "smiles" and the country prospers, in terms of GDP anyway.

On the flip side, a lot of these well-respected jobs out there are not given any respect at all. Lawyers. Politicians. Teachers. Endless pay hikes are in sight for these "professions". Their professional expertise, in my opinion, are in their capability to coerce people into supporting their salaries/lavish lifestyles for the dirtiest, nastiest work we ask of them: Keeping us out of jail, legislating rules that must be followed in order to stay out of jail, and Raising Our Children. Glorified babysitters that supposedly inspire future generations to give us all a brighter future. Okkkkaay. But my ideas for the revamping of public education is a blog for another day...And the lawyers, with their years of university education and Armani Suit-Wearing, compensating lawyers' salaries for the commitment they made to simply become a lawyer just baffles me. I say this now til I need a lawyer. (Secretly I am actually a HUGE Boston Legal fan). But my dream would be that one day we wouldn't even need any lawyers because everyone could just accept & respect eachother and eachother's stuff.

- Office Jobs -

8 til 4:30. 5 days/week. 2 weeks vacation/year. Show up: 8:10. Turn on computer, get coffee #1: 8:30. Read e-mails: 9, 9:15. Sort out plan for day: 9:30. 2 1/2 hours later? Lunch time. Back to desk: 12:30. Check facebook account and get coffee #3 or #4: 12:45. By 1:00? Back to it. Only 3.5 hours left. Make that 3 with 2 good pee breaks and a little bit of gossiping with the cute girl in the cubicle next door. 2:30: Roll eyes at Michael Scott for second time today. And we all know that last half hour doesn't really count, since we seem to have forgotten where we put our keys, afterall.

Not a bad gig. Whether these office jobs earn $15/hr as an administrative assistant or $85,000 per year as an professional engineer with 12 years of experience, essentially the daily routine is just the same. Similarly, labourers in construction can get paid well too. (And rightfully so!) One of the jobs that an associate of mine gets paid respectable wages to do is scoop sludge into a large steel bin with a shovel while I run around with a pen and a notebook in my attempts to fill this bin as efficiently as possible. This kid gets paid approximately equal wages to a junior engineer, and will be comfortable doing so for the foreseeable future. He will be able to raise a family and afford that summer vacation and would also enjoy his new 54" plasma tv with the Christmas Bonus he got, all for shovelling sludge. Mr. Will Hunting didn't have a problem with emptying trash cans and sweeping floors in a school either, and was still able to mack on Harvard students... If anything, maybe he could earn more than them by the time that those students got their loans paid off!

In the lumber yard, these teens are happy enough to rake in 30 hour weeks just so they can keep their cell phone and use it to text for when they are gonna need to buy some more pot (pure speculation, with some degree of confidence). Alternatively, these guys are working in the lumber yard to earn wages as their second or third job. One friend there is 40 years old and works 40 hours parking cars at the airport, 10 hours at a restaurant, and the same 12 hours that I work there every week load trucks, just for a little bit of income. Then this is compared to:

a teacher who has endless out-of-office hours to endure in order to be considered a well-respected teacher making a difference on our kids lives,

an engineer who is responsible for spending the countless hours making the reports that will result in millions of dollars being spent on the implementation of a technology,

a field engineer who is compensated for "working" as they drive to the site for 90 minutes and then back again at the end of the day.

These people will be getting paid better overall wages than the guy who parks the car, loads the lumber, or scoops the sludge. 62 hour weeks though! The average work week for Albertans is 38.8 hours (highest in Canada), but depending on the field, it is not uncommon for Albertans to reach 80. This, compared to some European countries that work 35 hours each week & have at least 4 weeks of holidays each year. Remarkable! With this time, it is expected that a person will have time to enjoy their family and friends. It provides a more wholistic approach to life. Somehow it just makes sense to me to work less. I mentioned this before, http://eternalhappyness.blogspot.com/2008/03/daylight-savings.html ,but thanks to the Sociology 363 course I am in right now, this topic of working has been on my mind like some'n wicked. And with the election last month, I looked at the registered political parties and found one out of Vancouver's East Side called the Work Less Party. They go into a very reasonable argument for the way we can have a better Canada based on less productivity. Its platform does have some problems, yet they are nothing that a young capable engineer couldn't get paid to handle... The best information on the workless.org party website is a short video which talks a lot about working less, enjoying life more, and having a smaller impact on the environment as a result. Check out http://www.workersoftheworldrelax.org/ .

- The Environment -

Another form of work is dedicating oneself to the protection of Mother Earth. In Alberta, especially, this is an admirable choice in that the province's resources are being depleted insanely fast (water & oil) and the air, soil, and source water are being damaged as a result. So you go tree-planting. 2 cents a tree or something right? And you do this, despite the rate of deforestation will at least keep up to the rate that you are putting them into the ground. Mike Hudema's greenpeace hippies might like you to go and blow up an oil well or tamper with some oil field equipment to deter growth. The privatization of yet another utility like the Goldbar waste water treatment plant might make a person think twice before applying for a job working there (yeah right). Working for a water utility like EPCOR might be frowned upon if a person has the education and inspiration to make a true difference working for an NGO like watercan.com that promotes equal opportunity to access to clean water and basic sanitation services. But then again, why should a person deny themselves the opportunity to be making, say, $60,000 ± $10,000 right out of school? Is this the reason why we only ever see pensioners out there showing their concern for Canada and the environment? Is the rest of our labour force just too consumed with making all that money?

If so, then how big of an impact is their work really having on our environment - our world? Automakers shut down in Windsor and put people out of work when sales are down. Pulp mills in Port Alberni shut down when prices being paid by the US market are low. And then what will these people do? Come to Alberta for a job in Energy. Pillage and burn that environment even faster. (Not to mention the increased crime rates, and decreased quality of workmanship). Or else, the outsourcing of work allows for rampant degradation of other countries' environments - in my world. On a global scale, The World Bank makes it impossible for impoverished countries to develop through industrialization to any degree without having a terrible impact on the environment, thanks to the lack of emission regulations set by the country. In Confessions of an Economic Hitman and The Secret History of the American Empire, John Perkins describes what is involved in getting a country industrialized based on the potential for the economy to eventually become self-sufficient. But what happens is once these loans have been granted to the developing countries, they are never able to pay back these loans, and the people there suffer with insufficient drinking water provisions, terribly low wages, and unimaginable sanitation services. Yet the construction and engineering firms that go to these places not only make a killing, but there employees are well compensated for the work they do to for this "development" to become possible.


But then again, there are just sooo many people out there in the world who wish to work to make a positive difference. They want to make their life's work worth while. Most people like to think that their work will be appreciated by at least someone, and that they will help at least one other person. Mr. Engel was my first inspiration - a grade 5 teacher (who I've dedicated a facebook group to) for his commitment to challenging 10 year olds to become better people. Mr. Goldethorpe was a highschool physics teacher who said "it's going to take the skateboarders of the world" to make the change necessary for a sustainable world. Even with weird metaphors, he had incredible intentions of making his students better. Engineers Without Borders - what can I say? Pretty much the best kind of people in the world. So receptive, willing to work for the good of others - expecting only the knowledge to take back with them to Canada to spread the importance of how we can playyourpart.ca . There are those of us who simply volunteer out of our own good hearts, knowing that work can wait. But this is a very small fragment of the population. It's not so much because people don't care - it's just that sometimes caring - and feeling - anything different than how we have been raised to feel about our potential to make a significant impact on the world, is hard. A person has to really feel and then want to continue caring in order to do more thinking, reasoning, believing in something more.
Shit, I'm late for work.

October 16, 2008

My Unbranding

Ch. 44
swm, 24, enjoys cooking, live music, walking outdoors with his dog, watching prison break and the occasional sit-com. only drinks fair-trade coffee and always uses a cloth bag for groceries. has university education, and is moderately well-travelled. enjoys saving money.

Wow. Well I'm impressed. Where do I sign up for a piece?

Certainly he has his drawbacks. He might still live at home and have an attention span shorter than a monkey on a rock but he has a genuinely (or generally?) good heart and more patience than he probably should. He's a little bit weird & tends to ask more out of people than they are usually willing to give.

As a boy, he discovered punk rock. It seemed to give him something to believe in. There were a lot of shared values presented in the lyrics, energy, & emotion built into these types of songs. They seemed to capture the spirit of incredible injustice on various levels. These generally amounted to the exploitation of the people that could be exploited. The people who fell through the cracks of society.

This feeling was reinforced for years as he "grew up". He looked very closely at people and how they lived. How they fit in and made do. How they survived in such a cruel world. He tried to empathize with them and tried to understand how/why more people didn't seem to see what he saw. He even wanted to do development work in Africa for a couple of years. He even wanted to adopt a child from Chad like Mr. Engel. He even wanted to volunteer at soup kitchens. He even wanted to give money to homeless people!

To further demonstrate his passion of the endless realms of inequality, he often thought about getting a tattoo branded onto his skin. He thought about getting scribbled on. Inked. He dreamt of that permanent way of showing off his rejection of the status quo. He wanted to have a distinct and matter-of-fact way of identifying himself as one of those misfits of society that could only dream of something better for both his life & his world. Between 2001 and 2006 he felt that the band Death By Stereo best encapsulated his feelings about everything from individual freedoms & opportunities, religion, the injustice & corruption of politics, and the need for all people to fight for something more. But by the time he turned 23, he started listening to less DBS (since after all, the same ~50 songs get kind of tired after a while). So instead of collecting a nice "Death Skull" complete with lightning bolts across his back, arm, leg, or chest, he collected stickers, shot-glasses, hats and other garments with the DBS signature instead. But without this kind of tattoo, how could he convince himself that these feelings he had were for life? What if it all just went away and he stopped caring about the issues that he spent so many nights mulling over in his head - so much so, that he had to start writing them out in order to: A) help organize his thoughts a little better, and B) get them out of his aching head?

His recently discontinued hotmail account had the band pennywise built into its name. He didn't even really realize that this e-mail probably acted as somewhat of a reinforcement of some of his own ideals. Pennywise represented the fight. They represented brotherhood, friendship, and sticking together in a tough & oppressive world. He didn't appreciate this until years after when he saw that the members of Pennywise continued to write passionate songs about injustice. Actually, he kind of lost faith in them for a short time while he explored the musical perspectives and ideas of metal and hardcore. But metal was for the "upper-class sub-cultures" since they thought they were more talented than those deviant simple-minded punks and had a deeper more serious look on life than just "rockers". However, Hardcore was a tougher, meaner brand of music which held a lot of the same beliefs of punk: There is an oppressed population trying to survive in a cold, hard world. The hardcore "scene" included a very tight group of kids. Unless you made it to all the shows and started to really meet the people in the scene, it was very difficult to become included in this tight knit group. It didn't matter what your background, lifestyle, or heritage was: if you had the commitment to some of these ideals of strength through brotherhood and made it to the shows, you were in. This is why he was out. He simply couldn't commit to show up at the Strat weekends or spend money on all the shows that he might have. But he still liked the music and what it represented. More so than metal anyways.

Country music was built into him. It didn't act as much of a deterent to his love for hardcore and street punk, but it gave him another dynamic character trait: the romantic. True, he found that one hell of a lot of country songs were lame and he hated the "Top 40" representation of this type of music. But at the same time, he really admired a lot of the stories that could tug at the heart strings and give a person a sense of appreciation of life. Shortly after 9/11 Alan Jackson released "Where Were You" which spoke to the lives lost from the terrorist attacks. "I'm already there" by Lonestar did a very good job of sending the same message. Outside of war issues, he really enjoyed the songs "Drive" and "Red Dirt Road" (Jackson, Brooks & Dunn) which simply told stories of life and growing up. "Movin' To A Small Town" by Steve Fox also gave him a sense of reminiscence about how life might have been like before there were the worries in the world that exist today. And Brad Paisley just knows how to get'r done. True, he has some of the hokiest love songs that could bring a tier to the eye of anyone with a beating heart, but he also knows how to write songs about the good life: fishin, smokin, racin police cars, women, and sex. but what sets Brad Paisley apart from the rest is definately his ability to write/perform love songs. This is what he identified with the most. It was his way of avoiding emo music which was an embarrassment to punk rock, and never touched on the issues that the other punk rock songs did. Oh, and Taylor Swift? Well, she's just smokin'.

But despite his many loves of different types of music, he never got one of those "around the bicep" tattoos commonly sported by oil country cowboys, nor one of those "death skulls" or pennywise symbols on his leg. He has no cowboy hat and doesn't wear eye shadow or those iddy biddy pants (Can you imagine?) His secret to relaxing is to listen to Justin Rutledge, Cat Power, or City and Colour, yet he would never tell you that his first favorite cd was Jewel. He is simply too well-rounded to become a cowboy, a punk, a skin, or a wuss. He hasn't even been able to put one of the many DBS or pennywise stickers on the bumper of his car because of the permanence that is suggested by doing so. He does have a 6 year old CISN country sticker on the inside of his CD wallet though, but shakes his fist in fury when he sees the Redneck Cowboy whip past him in the Henday driving his Chev with that same sticker on the back of the cab's window.
He really is just not that hard core of a person and never really even considered himself as one. He dislikes the mods, the hippies, the capitalists, the scenesters, and the rednecks and what they represent. Instead, he thinks that there should just be less class in this world, and he struggles with why more people just can't be treated as equals (no, he's not a commie!). He often jokes about not being classy enough for some people's tastes yet has probably seen more museums and plays and cultural exhibits than he cares to admit. By gaining "class", one gives up a little bit of humility. Instead, arrogance and self-importance is created. The more emphasis that is placed on self-importance, the more a person forgets about the people that fell through the cracks. They forget empathy and humility little by little. And without humility, one becomes something less than human.

As he aged, he did more reading, more listening, more talking to people. Engineers Without Borders proved to be one of his greatest influences in finding strength in a tough world. He relied on music a lot less since he finally found people that were incredibly open-minded and even more so open-armed. They let him see hope in the world despite injustice and happiness in the world beyond poverty. They didn't ask to see your tattoos or your ear gauge stretched to the size of a dollar. The white $2 makepovertyhistory bracelet was more than sufficient, and also helped spread a good message about hope. Thanks to this group, reading non-fiction became his favorite past-time. The non-fiction books he read reinforced some of his feelings he learned he had from listening to music. He learned that he was just one of many that wants something more for this world. He learned that he was a little bit more than some punkass kid with a little bit of angst.
So this is Ryan Unbranded. It is a look at how he feels disassociated from so many different groups/classes of people, yet still feels he has a place in this world where he needs to make a difference. Even if that difference is small. After all, he had a very good up-bringing and has no reason to complain about his life or the inequalities that may have been placed on him directly. Especially when you consider some of the lives of people in the world. Especially when you consider that he is a young swm with a university degree in engineering that enjoys cooking, live music, and taking his dog for walks...

October 14, 2008

Testosterone Makes the World Go 'Round, Part 2: Jock-O-Rama!

Chapter 7, Part 2: Jock-O-Rama!

Edmonton is a sports city. Thanks to 5 Stanley Cups and 13 Grey Cups, there is good reason to be proud of living in such a city that can rival other great cities. The 2 New York teams only have 4 cups each, for example, and have been around for more than 30 years. We celebrate our athletes and tend to idolize them & associate them with one of the leading reasons which make this city sooo darn grand.

On a different level, high school football in the States is one of the most religious past times for All- American boys. By being a competitive mean challenger and champion, you can win the fame and respect from your community, state, and if things keep going well, your country. With this fame comes fortune. Despite any salary caps, society places such a high value on its athletic champions that they make up the most well-paid people on earth, next to CEOs and movie stars. In addition, overzealous sponsors offer millions of dollars to these guys to either hit a ball, tackle an opponent, or make the free throw.

So where is this going. Well I was really turned off of sports for a while because of how utterly stupid sports can be. The 2004/05 NHL lockout really just ticked me right off. I saw nothing but money-grabbing lazy uneducated oofs that had dog fight parties, injected steroids, took cheap shots at eachother (eg Bertuzzi and S. Stevens, and Zidane), robbed pawn shops (Mr. OJ), cheated on their wives, chewed bubblegum and scratched their balls. The inability for these "champions" to make sport legit and being better role models for our youth finally caught up with me. Even CFL'ers, despite being paid less than anyone in all of pro-sports, would run around celebrating like little girls after the TD. Why should these people be rewarded for acting so stupid? Isn't some modesty/humility an attractive quality at all anymore? How about integrity and morality?

I played hockey for 13 years so I definately know the thrill in the challenge, the win. As well as the empty hole left after losing the finals in Minor Hockey Week or Playoffs. I know how fun it is to act like a total idiot (have you met me?), whether it be getting into a fight or getting the over time winner. But this competitivism often goes too far. If you are just rubbing your opponent's nose in it, that's one thing, but it usually comes to more than that.

In these team sports, there is so much competition. There is the expectation to do well both within your own team and within your division/league. All-Star Role Model goaltender Patrick Roy was accused of encouraging his own goalie son to get into a fight last Spring, after his boy had been out-scored 7 to 1. There is pride and reputation on the line after all.

So what about it? Nobody got seriously hurt. True. But what about those times when things get totally out of control? Today's society has less restraint than I have ever seen before. You can get beat up for wearing the wrong team colours walking down a street at night if not careful, depending on the degree of belligerence/drunkeness. Pride. Toughness. Power. Some people neeeeed these things in order to have enough confidence to get through life. Back in Southern California in the early 80s, punks and jocks would get into fights all the time because of the different schools of thought. Without the ability to conquer another group of people, or team, how could a guy show that he has what it takes to be a an honorable leader. How can he prove to be a reasonable provider or care-giver for his family?

I used to be somewhat athletic. I ran & played hockey. I used to love performing when certain girls were in the crowd. I would get some of the best times in long distance races and would often be called up to play higher-tiered hockey. I was awesome. Without athletic ability, guys can be really limited as to ways they can attract members of the opposite sex. The one biggy is through myoozik. Piano lessons is often a starter step towards rock & roll stardom but if you aren't playing guitar or bass by highschool, usually that dream can get flushed away too. BRAINS and HUMOUR are the alternatives, if the athleticism and musical ability are not quite there. But neither of these are really quite the same either, especially if the person who you might be attracted to is the least bit athletic or musically inclined. Sure, sure, opposites attract. I mean, look at the (current) wives of Dennis Kucinich and Donald Trump. Yozwza! So I suppose if you have enough brains to make it through real estate, politics, or comedy - Jim Carrey is with Jenny McCarthy?!?! - then the power to you. But then again, a lot of the time, people just aren't that darn funny.
So sports. The easy, most obvious way to be able to hold your head high. Pound that chest. Try to be +500 on the season and don't shame your team by sleeping with your line mates wife. I'm going to the gym.
(...i'm not really going to the gym...)

October 11, 2008

Faith, Religion, Atheists, and Hell

Ch. 3

There is an over-whelmingly large population of believers all throughout the world. Go to any part of any country. There will be those who either give thanks to a higher being, those who ask a higher being for better fortune in the future, and those who simply just need someone to blame for any injustice in the world.

When we see so much tragedy in the world (which is broadcasted more effectively than ever thanks to technology), it is hard to imagine there couldn't be life after death to balance out the atrocities. There needs to be a place for those of us that done good in this world, and those of us who did nothing but use and abuse. Right?? Societies all around the world have this expectation that there will be something more after death. Something for the babies that die in the womb, something for those who suffer through years of dialysis but finally succumb to cancer, and something for those murderers and rapists of the world, too.
So we reject the concept of just ceasing to exist. St. Peter has to be waiting for each of us at God's Golden Gate. That three-headed hellhound has to be guarding the River Styx. The Rainbow Bridge that connects us to our dead pets will be open 9 til 5, the 7th Circle of Hell really is where the nastiest of individuals burn, and for us "good" ones - we will get to be with that list of loved ones that have left us years - decades - before... and the philly cream cheese will have never tasted better.

Being removed from this earth and everything on it that we are familiar with is impossible to comprehend. Pi Patel was perhaps one of the more enlightened of us since he had the opportunity to investigate and realize the merits of hinduism, christianity, and islam at a young age. After some hassling from his parents/cleric figureheads about choosing 1 religion, Pi declares that he "just wants to love God". His strength through faith shows us that even a young boy can survive on a raft with a tiger, orangutan, and a hyena for 270 days or something. He understood that the probability of his family's survival was nil yet he didn't cave in either. Which of the religion's heavens might have he been welcomed in to? What if he didn't have the strength to carry on and ended his own life by jumping overboard? Would he suffer in the 3rd or 4th circle of hell for all of eternity for this? What if his family did one while he did the other and was therefore separated from them after death for all of eternity - him in (some) Heaven and his family split between various fiery realms ruled by Satan, or vice versa???
Another question that I have is how do we put a value on a life? I touched on this before in some blog about some of the horrific stories pertaining to animal cruelty. Recently laws were passed saying that docking a dog's tail is now illegal since the animal can feel the pain. Renown kennel clubs weren't happy to hear this since fewer dogs will meet the breed standard. But they do feel pain. The argument might go that domesticated animals are only worth sparing any pain. We all need beef burgers after all. So when I torture ants by frying them with a magnifying glass, this is okay. And when I tame a lion with the crack of my whip, or I beat my horse with a piece of leather urging it to get around the track faster, that is also just fine. But if we have such a hard time drawing the line for domesticated animal cruelty, then I suppose it would also be difficult to determine how and when lethal punishment of human beings is acceptable in our society. How can a guy like Robert Pickton - who obviously not have any respect for life or people at all, have his own life spared through a bureaucratic system funded by our own tax dollars in this very just democracy? How can a guy like James Rozko be spared from living a life here on earth being hated by essentially everyone and instead just leave this world? Is it his fault that he didn't have the support networks like so many of us have which resulted in him becoming a murderer? Does becoming a murderer deserve an eternal place being tortured in hell? Can that kind of a murder really be distinguished from the murder of your cousin when she was killed by the idiot drunk driver in the pick-up truck??

There are a lot of people out there who have nothing. They might include Vancouver East Side heroine addicts, Ethiopian coffee farmers, First Nations drug dealers, Romanian refugees. When asked to list there children, they will list both the living and the dead, the latter often being higher in numbers. In Craig Ferguson's book "Between the Bridge and the River" he emphasizes how the people with the least count on religion the most. They pray and pray and give dollars to the church/preacher in hopes that by doing so, they will be rewarded. They are begging for a break. Where will these people go when they die?

We can all appreciate the Great Circle of Life thanks to Simba, Mufasa, and Rafiki. Even cartoon lions and baboons believe that there's a place in those stars - a heaven - where those long gone shine down on us. It might just be far too much to believe that when we die, our bodies die and become the grass, and the antelope feed on the grass, and that in some way of form, millions of years from now, we will be re-invented into some other life species, through mass preservation principles. Our soul must leave us, and go someplace else. Then what about politicians???
There are a lot of cop-outs. A lot of people declare themselves as "spiritual" and not religious. Some people that have been exposed to the church might find some of their ways a little bit outlandish - bordering on cult-like, with repetitive responses and hymns sung in 1 tone. Sit, stand, kneel. "What up wit dat, yo!" There are historical battles between Christians and Protestants and Jews vs Non-Jews. How can there be 1 heaven for all of these "believers" to go to, when there is sooooo much hatred - enough to spill blood over - between the various groups? A Barbara Walters special from about a year ago (my initial motivation to write on this) included her interviewing religious leaders from around the world including everyone from the Dali Llama to members of extremist groups. One argument against might include with the decreasing numbers of Christians around the world, and the immense and growing populations of lesser Christian countries, how could "my" religion be the right one? What about strength in numbers? Could that many people be wrong about God and the afterlife? What if I don't agree with some of those ideals and principles within that one religion, even if it is - in truth - the only one right religion? Would to even think different about simply lead to eternal damnation?? Is by fully supporting the traditional values of my religion the only way to ensure that I have the best eternity to exist in for all of time? Good Little Catholics, for example, are supposed to go out and make more good little catholics by avoiding condoms/birth control. If by choosing not do so, am I up the creek? Also, is it really even a good parental decision to have children - to attempt raising children in a world filled with war, poverty, and corruption? Wouldn't it be more effective to adopt a child born into poverty? Maybe God would appreciate that more... What if I have an impure thought about 2 certain girls and myself? Does that bump me into some other whole new Circle of Fiery Hell? If so, then are the homosexuals of the world going to burn even more? What do I need to believe in in order for me to have a painless eternity? I think I am good to most people, but sometimes tempers can flair... So where is the line that Thou Shall Not Cross in order for us to ensure that we can at least have some peace - Do we cross that line by simply suggesting that there may be no afterlife at all?!
Facebook suggests that there a lot of apathetic agnostics out there that either don't have much to believe in or are just tooo busy in this fast-paced world to worry about being religious. They may have a blind faith in God such that if they were killed on their way home from school or work in a freak accident, their families can say "through his faith in God we have the piece of mind that he will be resting in peace with his creator". Some people are just sooo upset with the disparity/inequality in the world, they don't even care and wonder even "how could hell be any worse?"

Dante's Inferno, though written and translated from an Italian poem, was a challenging read, yet something I knew I had to get through. It's vivid description of the prices that people might pay with various levels of sin are quite disarming. It makes me wish that I could be a better person and that I had some better guidance as to where I should look for answers to this insane experience called life. Craig Ferguson's book also ties in Dante's Inferno and I am glad that I got through them both so close together. You should read them too.

October 8, 2008

Choices Made

ch 35.

Have you ever considered your life? Where you are now? What and Who in your future might be included and not included? I wish I could try and distinguish this blog from the "it's what you do with it" series of blogs, the difference being, I think, that those ones are meant to be pro-active whereas this is supposed to be about who you are now as a result of choices made.

This is about paths travelled and bridges crossed (or burnt). It's about those big time decisions that you've made that have significantly altered the way your future might turn out. For example, rather than studying those courses I need to graduate in December, I am wasting time writing this. What if I didn't graduate?! I can't even imagine it!!!

There are only a few times in a person's life (I am guessing about 10 - 15 big ones) that they will have to make some of those life-altering decisions. (I hope that writing this here and now is not one of them).

When we are about 6, we have bed times. When we are 10, we have homework. We are exposed to the first smokers in our midst @ age 14. Curfews are common when we hit 16. With little (parental) guidance/enforcement, we are pretty likely to take advantage of everything we can get away with. A snowball effect is created and you might just end up with someone who will not even (heaven for bid) be getting any post-secondary education.

Life-confirming decisions

After you've survived those adolescent years, the choices we have to make don't get easier. Sometimes options become even more limited @ year 18 depending on those choices made earlier in life. Some might argue against this saying that even kids who got a job @ 14, stayed out til 3 @ 16 and did all the hard drugs by 18 still have opportunity to be happy. Cuz that's what this life is really all about, isn't it? But even for the "good kid" with lots of options and opportunity, the decisions don't get easier.

After highschool, kids have to determine if they are capable or eligible of the following:

    • Post-Secondary School or Full Time Work
    • World Travel, Move Out, or Stay at Home
    • Which friends stay and which friends go
    • Are you going to marry your highschool sweetheart?
There are a lot of restraining factors that will determine what kind of kid does what. If your parents have degrees, stats show that you are more likely to go get some sort of post-secondary. If the kids parents are in debt, he/she will either have to get a job or get away.
These 4 decisions often determine what we are setting ourselves up for waaay down the road. By choosing work rather than school, it's possible that the money will be good at the beginning but the job won't offer much opportunity for advancement later in life. By choosing to travel, you are either choosing to spend Daddys Money, go into debt, or if you are lucky, spend all that scholarship money. The benefits in travelling young being that you get more "cultured" and a broader understanding of societies other than our own, and not being arthritic.
It must be nice to go through life not ever even contemplating your untravelled paths. Or to have already travelled them all. What if you actually did break it off with that one person after 3 years? What if you didn't take that job away from home when you knew your father's health was worsening. What if you didn't have facebook and couldn't be have got in touch with your "friend" from grade 5? If they were really your friend, why didn't you spend more time talking to them all along? What if you didn't rely on talking and texting to organize your day while driving. Maybe that child on the bike would still be alive. 

You might tell me it's not too late to make a change. This is true in some cases but the later we go through life, the more instilled we get in our ways and less likely we are to change. That's why you should start donating blood tomorrow. (It's not hard and only takes an hour every 56 days.) Beyond these important decisions we have to make now, there's not going to be too many more. These will likely include deciding how much debt you want to incur when you buy your first house. It might include whether you know in your heart if you might happily raise children with your significant other, or not. It might include getting extra education or maybe even leaving town once and for all.

Without trying to sound like a broken record, the last thing I have to say about this is be true to yourself. Don't let others manipulate you into being someone less than the person that you think you can be. Have confidence in your abiltiy to set yourself up for a future with limitless possibilities. And grow a pair.

October 7, 2008

The Age of Desensitization

Chapter 20 Part 1.

The images that we are exposed to today from the various forms of media are changing the characteristics of the human spirit that make us, well, human. The TV is such a wonderful invention. It acts as an informant, educator, sedative, a baby-sitter... Pop culture icons and demons like Marilyn Manson and Lindsay Lohan both give us a way to escape our own reality by thinking "god, what must it be like to be them", as well as set roll models for our youth, keeping in mind that our youth is a lot older today than the youth of 2 or 3 generations ago. These heroes just do great things for our kids, don't they? Aside from TV, there is the internet. *sigh*...the internet...where do I even begin? Then there's music --- well today's most popular music is not quite Mozart now, is it? As for zines? Well Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition no longer provides swimsuits for their models, but rather, just applies paint. (I wish I was a painter).

There's an endless bombardment of bad news stories reported daily. Domestic violence, gang shootings, incidents on reserves, violence against defenceless animals, arsons, break-ins, whyte avenue stabbings, downtown muggings by groups of 16 year old girls...and this is just the stuff that we get to see between 6:00 and 6:10. From there, we hear stories of another dead soldier, 160 lives ended in another Pakistan earthquake, and then the genocides in Sudan. This stuff though, we don't usually pay as much attention to cuz it is NIMBY afterall. And really, who wants to hear about how many child soldiers were killed on any given day, or how many people died from AIDS? The Edmonton Sun is really not much different now than what I have heard what it was like 20 years agowith respect to some of its headlines and photos. There's nothing much else like looking at pictures of bloody car accident tragedies while we munch on our corn flakes.

Outside of the news but still on TV, we can thank Family Guy to finally take us to where The Simpson's brought us to 20-some years ago. Paris Hilton's BFF, the UFC Championships, Showcase, CSI (or any crime show) are just other examples of the ideas that we get entrenched into our minds as promoting acceptable behaviour when we watch them time and time again.

Movies like Saw, A Clockwork Orange, or Silence of the Lambs depend on the thrill that we get by watching other people being terrorized and brutalized. Needles, chainsaws, bodily penetration with various devices, ingesting human flesh, abduction of pretty girls...Movies just doesn't seem to have any limits/boundaries. SEX in the movies is nothing really new. Harold & Kumar showed us the art of "bottomless parties" whereas Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz were the first to give us our first glimpse of an alternative to "hair gel" on the silver screen. It was Knocked Up with Izzy from Grey's which incorporated both full male frontal nudity and a group of (typical) pothead delinquents who come up with the idea of documenting nude scenes of movie stars. Unfortunately for them, this had actually been done by Mr. Skin (in real life) already. Forgetting Sarah Marshall has some pretty provocative scenes that simply would have never been able to be shown to even 15 years ago. Stanley Kubrick, Nicole Kidman and our dear Mr. Tom Cruise filmed a movie about orgies. wtf.

Magazines are wonderful. How would I ever survive without having my girlfriend reading about those 10 New Ways to Pleasure Your Man?? Maxim is the magazine that you can be guaranteed that at least 1 of the group of students you are flying with somewhere together will be picking up. These magazines give us incredible imagery of the ideal way all people should look, how they should act. Even if the pictures are all faked (or digitally enhanced as they say). Magazine's made Hugh Hefner a millionaire because thanks to the amount of freedom one has in America to pay money for any kind of service, even if it means degrading oneself. If I was a teenager back in the 50s I would be pretty thrilled to see a naked woman any time I wanted to on a piece of glossy paper. But then someone got tired of seeing the same old tits & *ahem* legs time and time again so they came up with something a little more crude. (Try reading about Larry Flynt on wikipedia and try not to puke). There was something for everyone, yet the more a person grew accustomed to a certain thing, the more wild the stuff they would want to see next time. Other forms of literature like Harlequin Romance novels got people to thinking that even text could be brought to life with possibilities beyond even MY wildest imagination. Next thing you know it? Penthouse Letters. Things got crazier and crazier and now it's reached a point where men & women alike are soo addicted to pornography and living their lives vicariously through other people that it affects their families and their jobs. Which leads me to...

The internet.

15 years ago, the internet introduced us to a whold new world. We were connected. To our friends, our family, and to strangers. We know have facebook, myspace, youtube, and blogspot (where I try to corrupt your soul!) to pass our days by and to give us the information about anything we might want information about. Yet it isn't hard to be on the internet and get lost to something that can be incredibly desensitizing to the human spirit. Thank you Britney Spears. But seriously. Again, the images of the atrocities of war are at our fingertips. Sicker stuff that we would been totally unheardof in any other war in history, including beheadings as well as honest-to-life tortures in that little American naval base in Cuba. Personally, I would love to live life without the internet. My name is Ryan and I am an internet addict. It has corrupted, desensitized me to a degree I am certain, yet I am hopeful that I still know the difference between right and wrong. People just need guidance to learn the discretion and morality required to make appropriate, non-destructive use of their time reading/looking at/browsing the net. Brad Paisley wrote a fun song about how much fun it is to be online. Thanks, Brad, but let's try not to cross the line.

My argument for music desensitizing people will be weak. Whether it be Justin Timberlake's Future Sex Love Show posters plastered all over New York City subways and billboards, or the destructiveness in the lyrics on Cradle of Filth's hoodies "Your mother should have swallowed" or "Dead Girls Don't Say No", it's just all bad. I endorse the positive attitude of punk rock songs with respect to bringing down corrupt (all) governments and having strength through unity. And as if you know me you know, the rare country music love song is okay too. Thanks to digitalization of music around the world, kids spend countless hours behind the computer. It is non uncommon to see some of the largest Killswitch Engage fans at the show at the EEC standing no more than 4 feet tall. These kids just need to understand that this music can become just another vice that could be just as destructive to the human spirit as the many other sources of desensitization I mentioned.

With all of this media at our hands, and so much of it bad, it is not hard to understand how a young person could get into bad habits. But rather than talking about sex or violence, I want to talk about profanity. My friend Jen wrote a note called "I Fucking Hate Cats". In it she describes how swearing makes people sound like morons. I don't know if I hear more swearing being around civil engineers or at my part-time job working in the lumber yard. Either way, it's relentless. Fucking bullshit cocksucking mother fucker. Who says that?!?! And more importantly, what can we attribute it to? I have soo much confidence in my friend Jen to give us hope in a less belligerent more thoughtful next generation in the way she handles things. So I cannot put this all back on parents, because it is possibly the case that she too didn't have much of that kind of language in her own household growing up. I live across the street from 2 schools. If I am around home around lunchtime during the week, I can't help but hear 8 and 9 year olds SCREAMING the F word. Followed by the SH and a few B's. I have a pretty good memory and can say with a fair degree of confidence that life wasn't like that when I was that age. With that kind of language comes kids trying to act all grown up and having sex at younger ages too. So thank you Lindsay Lohan for sucking that guy off in your latest movie, and thank you Paris Hilton for letting that guy do his thing on your things. Thank you Michael Richards and Mel Gibson for your tolerance of minority groups and not being able to hold it together for your fans. Thank you George W. Bush for creating a war so that impoverished Americans can go and shoot a gun once or twice before they are killed, so they can be a little bit like their favorite war movie hero. Thank you Family Guy for letting us see the humour in cartoon babies getting sliced open with butcher knives while their fathers turn into pimps for a weekend, and thank you Mary for putting that goop in your hair to make it stand up like that.

Part 2 is going to be about something a little more interesting, I swear.