March 24, 2009

Sterilized & Sanitized: Clean Me More, I'm Dirty.

Chapter 14.

Clean Me More, I'm Dirty

Actually, I am a pretty clean guy. I shower and brush my teeth. I Wash my hands before eating maybe 8 times out of 10. And I bring my own cutlery to restaurants.


Okay, may be not that last one. But that's my point. Soooo much emphasis is always put on how everyone is so damn' concerned for cleanliness that it is actually sort of turning into this crazy paranoia where you can't go anywhere without fearing what might have been there first...and what was left behind.

It reminds me of that little guy from Wall-E (Mo) that rolls around everywhere bleeping the words: "foreign contaminant, foreign contaminant". I wonder how much of this will come to be true once we get to the year 2743...

So I suppose a lot of this - like many of my postings - has to do with knowing when/where to draw the line. Sure, some public washrooms are just plain gross. Sometimes you might open the door, walk in 2 steps, then spin on your heal and walk right back out. It's just that bad. Other times, you might be just driven to the limit! and can't put things off any longer and before you know it, you're lining the toilet seat with the same TP that a total stranger was acquiring only minutes earlier from that same dispenser hanging on the wall, engraved with catchy phrases and phone numbers. Then again, if the bathroom isn't the one in a West Edmonton Mall food court or on the main floor of the ETLC or the McDonald's restaurant on 111th Ave, then you might actually even have to use a paper towel to work the soap dispenser, turn on a faucet, and openin' the door on your way back out.

Ketchup in restaurants used to be set on tables, ready and waiting for you to use as much or as little as you wanted to on your fries, eggs, steak. Nowadays, ketchup is prepared in the kitchen, and your little 30 gram ration is brought out alongside your meal in a little paper cup. And how awkward is that when you order ketchup with your steak!!

Keeping with the restaurant/food theme, I remember back in the day when plastic drinking straws weren't individually wrapped with paper sleeves. Are people really that much more dirty NOW then they were a decade ago that we can't even take from the same straw machine? Maybe so. I suppose it has more to do with (like everything else in the world) proportions of populations. More people total = more people dirty. Urbanization and population growth are once again the real culprits. Even with the better meds, sanitary products & services, advanced treatments, and various diagnostic tests, we are still getting dirty. So despite being told how nowadays we are a healthier species with higher longevities than ever before in human history, we still can't be trusted with our ketchup and we need paper sleeves on our straws. And no more pee-mints.

There is also this large wave of nu-hippies out there who are taking on this holistic approach. No whacky meds and everything au naturale. Dooood. Thaaaaat sooounnnnds revooooLUUUUUUtionarrrrrry! Stick it to the man, dude! Fuck the system!!! My yoga mat is actually made out of hemp! My kids won't ever have a immunization shot, because I believe in feeding them organic oranges and no caffeine! or Kraft products. Or beef. Or meat products at all, really. They will build strong immune systems and will become world leaders.

Buses. Specifically Edmonton Transit. A second home of mine between the years 1996 and 2008. They can be pretty unsanitary. I've seen everything from half-eaten sandwiches to half-drank beers to gum anywhere imaginable to vomit, spit, and worse. And that's just the driver! jk. But if this is the respect that patrons of Edmonton Transit are paying for the 2 dollar and 75 cent service that the cityis providing, it says a lot about (some of) the patrons themselves. My recommendation when taking Edmonton Transit: Full sleeves, jeans, knee socks, closed-toe shoes, gloves, and a hoodie with the hood up. and drawn tight. Not all bus-riders are overwhelmingly disgusting, but some of them you may prefer to not have coughing on, or rubbing up against you. Trust me, I was one of those very people.
So sanitation (on buses or anywhere) is directly related to health, and despite my criticisms of how a lot of the sterilization techniques seem overkill, they probably necessary (with no one to blame but ourselves).

But I guess as Canadians, we are really pretty damn' fortunate when it comes to our over all health. In comparison with our neighbors to the south, anyways. Michael Moore's Sicko pointed this out pretty explicitly. Also, we suck doctors out of places like South Africa, Bangladesh, Indonesia with pretty terrific promises of salaries and standards of life so that we have enough physicians to go around for our 33M people. We hope that "proportional populations" won't leave those countries with a healthcare deficit. Even if we already know that 95% of the World Is 3rd World. And thanks to Ralph Klein, the 3rd Reich errr what? Okay, the Third Way Health Care programme, you can be rest assured that all of your Big Oil money will get you into the doctor's office FIRST to scan for that tumour resulting from you sucking back all those petro/diesel fumes. Let's just hope that the doctor that you DO get (whether you pay your way, or wait and wait til your final moments here on earth) is actually a A- doctor instead of a C+ doctor!
My lungs right now are pretty clear. Other than actually being sicker than I have been for longer than I have ever been (~10 days now). But I had been exposed to second-hand smoke semi-regularly for 15 years until my Grandma passed away in '99 from lung cancer. Since then, I have been in virtually smoke free atmospheres for 10 years now. It was about 2003 when the No Smoking In Bars bylaw came into effect, so I only had 1 good year of going out to smoke-filled pubs n' clubs before that breath of death was taken out of the equation too. I enjoy my health. I think that bylaws like not smoking within 5 metres of a business entrance way is retarded since it is pretty damn' impossible to enforce. But we are making progress. Thank You For Smoking with Aaron Eckhart did a decent job of showing us all how tobacco lobbyists are in fact The Devil. I think that we've seen smoking being eliminated from airplanes, malls, restaurants, bars, and now: cars with children (law in Ontario) all within my lifetime (mid-late 80s for planes). We are getting cleaner, healthier, and maybe even happier? With this new found health, and our hemp yoga mats and untainted beverage straws for our diet coca-colas, maybe we will find some more time (more years in our life) to be doing more positive things with it. Finding cures for AIDS or MS or Lung Cancer, for example!!
So yes. Drawing that line. Always a challenge. I believe that being overkill really is necessary in this day & age (like, calculate a HUGE factor of safety), because there are just too many of those "100% Pure Contaminants" out there, who likely won't have the opportunity to sanitize or sterilize anything ever. It's a cryin' shame that even if a peanut shot is created for kids so that PB&J sandwiches might actually be allowed back into schools one day, one parent will likely be that "holistic hippie" and wreck it for everyone else anyways!
But safety first, eh?!
Good health to you.

March 18, 2009

To The Fans of Sociology, Political Science, and the Arts In General, I Suppose

Chapter 43

Coming from engineering, it is easy to (biasedly) say that the set of skills developed throughout the program are much more practical than many other programs. First, you have to have exceptional grades in order to get into the program, and then you are required to persist through a rigorous set of technical courses that enable you to think about problem solving methods for anything from design to planning to mitigation.

However, I am convinced that the people that are most concerned for the state of the world are not necessarily the engineers, albeit, they can certainly have a lot to offer to the betterment of the world when given the authority to do so. Instead, I think that proportionately, students of Sociology especially, (and to some extent Political Science and maybe even other Arts students). These students are trained to be the great communicators of our time, and it is only through communication to all the different powers (and non-powers) of the world, will we be able to make the change that we need to see. In addition, the students who are dedicated to their education will likely be the ones who want to have a thorough understanding of the greatest inequalities in the world, and the reasons behind them.

My biggest concern for us engineers is that even the most hard-working committed engineer may not fully realize the full extent of the impact of what it is they might be doing. Ethics is a large part of how we are trained to conduct ourselves, but to me it is really more just a matter of learning where to draw the line is. Engineers can go and implement solutions and systems for anything anywhere, but to really understand what the greatest good for the greatest number is, is something very challenging, even for the smartest engineers in the world. A lot of this comes from a book I read a few years ago called "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" by Perkins who detailed what was involved for engineering firms to go into third world countries, under the guise of developing the country's services and henceforth, economy. It went on to explain how a lot of the financial investment by American firms would ensure that the country getting the investment would be forever in debt to the World Bank and IMF, and have to compensate these two major players in any way they can, as a result.

I want to see this change. Not now, but RIGHT now.

Surely, I am not the lone engineer who feels this way, but it is a matter of binding these engineers together who can conceive of the idea that there might be a better way. This brings us back to the communicators. These people have a broader understanding of some of the things in this world that matter, with respect to having a sustainable planet earth for decades, centuries? to come.

Before I go on though, I want to make things crystal clear. Just because a person studying the Arts might have some comprehension of social constructs (like marriage or family), or globalizatioin & environmental degradation (like Greenpeace Tar Sands campaigns or FTAA/NAFTA policies), or of the reinforced hierarchical systems within government that are designed to hide us from the corruption that exists within (Harper's Tories), it does not mean that these people are some unique elite brand of altruistic idealists that think their open-mindedness & higher moral standards make them better than you or I.

Rather, these people (irrespective of amount of formal education), are simply one of our last remaining hopes that we have to try & communicate the economic and political power-men of the world as to what it is that they must do in order to manage, maintain, if not meliorate our planet. This includes everything from social issues like crime, eldercare, and family planning (think "Octo-mom"), to environmental issues (climate change, solid waste management, air/water quality protection), to resource depletion (water, oil), to the major economic issues and the legislation currently in place that will maintain our focus on the protection of the "corporation", rather than making allowances for promoting subsistence living (think small-scale farming).

It is up to these Arts Majors, especially, to be fully functional on every level; starting with working as/with teachers in our schools, and working as/with Ministers of Education in government. They must act on local levels to get councils to understand more fully the issues of sprawl, the root causes of crime, and importance of an exceptional public transit system. They must act on a provincial/state level so that these areas can understand how their decisions, when amalgamated, can effect the entire country (and how it is perceived around the world) (think tar sands). On a national level, they can almost be viewed as a nonprofit lobbyist group looking to hold their MPs in check, such that they will be acting on the behalf of their constituents. It is soooo important for a country to be seen as a leader, and by not recognizing water as a human right, for example, extreme counter-production occurs and the country as a whole is seen as a setback to progression towards living on a sustainable planet.

- The Role of the Engineer -

It is both a privilege and an honour to be recognized as a professional engineer. Even with the hundreds of graduating students that the U of A pumps out every year, these kids will only make up a very small fraction of the world's population, and with such a skillset, they are usually pretty well appreciated and compensated for their abilities to solve problems. But in these times, I think we must ask more from our engineers. We must encourage them to work more effectively with the "communicators" who could benefit from their technical expertise in realizing what types of systems will be sustainable to implement, with as minimal negative impact on everything as possible. It's a matter of priorities. An understanding that many things may be have some detrimental effect as the result of implementing some system or technology or structure for some people some place. The "ethical" dilemma must be taken to a much further extent such that we engineers will strive to understand "who really wins" and at what costs. It's a matter of the communicators understanding what possible solutions engineers might have to offer, and then, delivering that information and convincing the WORLD what must be done, and the critical path in order to get it done... before it's too late.


And progress is not intelligently planned
It's the facade of our heritage, the odor of our land.

They speak of progress, in red, white and blue.
It's the structure of the future as demise comes see things through.

It's progress --- 'til there's nothing left to gain
As the death of new ideas makes us wallow in our shame.
So before you go contribute more to the destruction of this world you adore
Remember life on earth is but a flash of dawn and we're all part of it as the day rolls on.

And progress --- it's the message that we send.
One step closer to the future, one inch closer to the end.
I say that progress is a synonym of time.
We are all aware of it, but it's nothing we refine.
And progress is a debt we all must pay.
Its convenience we all cherish, its pollution we disdain

And the cutting edge is dulling, too many folks to plow through.
Just keep your fucking distance, and it can't include you.

It's progress! 'til there's nothing left to gain!

It's progress! it's a message that we send!

And progress is a debt we all must pay!

-bad religion, 1989

March 13, 2009

My Favorite Movies

Ch. 32: The Necessity of Escapism, Part 2
Last time I dwelled on how people need to "escape this misery called life" and some of the ways that they can go about doing so. Mostly, this included basking in the niceties of going on vacation and consuming alcohol (to numb the effects of the stress of travelling).
This time though, I want to suggest one of the best alternatives to those two, and why these choices are soooo much incredibly better than drinking or vacationing.
Watch movies. Not just any movies. Happy movies. Not slapstick ridiculous "off the cuff" movies. Goofy movies. Not sexually provocative sleazy "get your hard-on with Angelina Jolie" movies. Romantic movies. Not chick flicks like the Notebook and most certainly not Brokeback Mountain. But heart-wrenching surreal movies that allow you to sympathize with, but not become overcome with emotion by the characters in the plot, kind of movies. If these "happy" movies that I have tried to screen out still leave you with thrasher/bloodbath flicks on your list, then I suppose I should just give up already. But what I am actually trying to get at here is that some of the best movies that a person could ever go and see arrrreee:
For a long time now, I have maintained that cartoon movies can be some of the best medication for a person in need of reprieve from the stresses of life. Nothing quite says "so long psychopathic horror-style murder by beheading" like watching Roger Rabbit getting dipped ears first into, well, the Dip. Alright, maybe that's a bad example seeing how inhumane that was for poor Roger, but not all cartoons were like that - growing up - or now.
Growing up, us kids had the privilege of watching a lot of Classic Disney movies play in theaters. I still remember watching Aladdin @ Gateway Cinemas when I was about 8. Movies like that appealed to kids' imaginations and dreams and also gave parents a sense of gratitude in that sexual undertones would be left out completely, simply for the benefit of us kids. Lion King: probably still one of the best movies made for kids ever, was the same way. Minus the word "sex" that was apparently written in the stars at some point or another...The success & popularity of Disney's movies through the 80s and 90s allowed for Edmonton weatherman Mike Sobel to run a very entertaining 2 hour Saturday Special on ITV called the Disney Afternoon for a couple of years! This is back when times were simple, and kids weren't all hopped up on sugar and crack. Outside of Disney, The Land Before Time (one), All Dogs Go To Heaven, and An American Tale were some real classics that enabled children to... be kids! These movies offered great entertainment value for children & parents alike and didn't require any sex or violence to do so.
When Pixar got humongous thanks to Toy Story, kids had the opportunity to reclaim their youth yet again. This ridiculous story of friendship and never giving up was a great break from some of the other movies I was watching at the time: Cape Fear and Primal Fear are the two that come to mind. Plus the new Toy Story ride in Disneyland, CA is pretty much the funnest thing ever. Finding Nemo - the movie & the ride - certainly didn't surmount to what Toy Story (1 or 2) offered. Cars was a good Pixar production, but mostly because of the Brad Paisley song "Find Yourself".
But then we kids got brains, apparently. The movie industry thought that us kids had to become more responsible for the lives we were living, and that simply understanding the importance of "The Circle of Life" or that "Beauty is Only Skin Deep" was not enough. Chicken Run made us all think twice about the repressed lives of chickens. Fern Gully was the first to bring awareness to some of the atrocities of deforestation of rain forest in 1992. The Bee Movie let Jerry Seinfeld show us how bees are just another dying species that we should beeee concerned for, as we continue to destroy their habitat. Happy Feet - Same thing. Madagascar showed us how inhuman and lonely zoo animals might be and how the animals vie to be "home". And most recently Wall-E projected what we might be in for as a human race, given the amount of waste we produce and resources we exploit. Thinking Movies. No sex, gore, or violence included.
I saw Kung Fu Panda with some friends and tried to convince them that it was The Lion King reincarnate, with its whole premise of having a reject overcome all odds to make things right. Little did I know at the time that Madagascar 2: Return To Africa was even more of a ripoff of The Lion King, where the lion in the movie had to "go back to challenge his uncle to take his place as king". Direct copy. Oh well. Still a great movie. I liked the penguins.
I have yet to see a number of cartoon movies - on the top of the list are Ice Age, A Bug's Life, and Ratatouille. Well, those are the important ones anyways!
So there you have it: A whole blog about how (non-violent, non-sexcrazed, non-gore) movies can be used to help you escape from some of the heart burning stomach churning realities of every day life, where enough violence, sex, and gore exist as it is! Cartoons. Oi. Sure, some of these cartoons might be "thinking" movies, but I would rather have my kids thinking than watching crap like "Jackass", "Harold & Kumar" (soo good), "Earnest Goes to Camp" or worse...
Also, "how is this better than drinking or vacationing" you might ask? Well, it's not, but how else would have I got you to read this far. God damn' my liver when it's thirsty! Time for a DRINK!!! (too sober to sleep).
The Top 6 Non-Cartoon Movies of My Youth: TMNT, Ghost Busters, E.T. Home Alone, The Goonies, and Short Circuit.