Friday, April 13, 2012

From F-U to Big F

North Korea put the international community on its heels earlier this week with the news that they were going to launch a satellite to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of their fearless leader. While they innocently claimed that it was a weather satellite, the rest of the world had its own ideas of what the test was for. USA was particularly concerned, with the intention of suspending a food aid program to North Korea in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear programs, while neighbouring Asian nations were more concerned about the safety of their citizens.

While there's been much ado about the test, including some scientists revealing that North Korea's geographical reality poses a logistic problem for the launch, the regime has remained defiant. Faced with obstacles ranging from political to scientific, the regime stayed true to its plan and vision, eschewing international concern and basic geography. And the end result? They failed.

It has a certain poetic quality to it, and yet, a mitigated amount of hilarity. It's kind of like the teenager who decides he's leaving home and decides he will defiantly take the family car with him, despite the fact that he has no plans and no insurance or license and is very likely to be grounded for life. Maybe he can't even drive. The truly important thing is that he gets to leave. Then, faced with all the potential consequences of his actions, and amid calls to reason from friends and family, he sets off on his quest, only to run out of gas two blocks down the street.

North Korea is not going to be so easily discouraged. They will keep testing and they will keep working on their projects, some of which may or may not include the destruction of its neighbours, South Korea for example, or ones a little farther away, like the USA. They will probably continue to play innocent and make it seem like they're very interested in weather. They will probably recklessly continue to defy and nudge the international community like the kid who loses it one day in the playground and chucks a marble at the biggest kid in school.

The international community is going to have to keep watching North Korea and keep issuing warnings when it steps over the line. But for today, it looks like they might have foiled their own evil plan.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hear No Evil

A Greek reporter was pelted with eggs and yogourt by a group of protesters on the air who had issue with his invited guest. It turns out that the guest in question was a neo-Nazi and member of a highly controversial nationalist party with anti-immigration viewpoints. While it's laudable that the protesters came out to express their views, they might have done more harm than good.

On the one hand, they didn't target the right person. The invited guest was not the victim of the food fight, the host of the show was. He put on a brave front, allowing the attack to happen with little resistance and then quietly walked off set. Their attack would have been more successful and arguably more fun to watch had they had the right person.

On the other hand, nobody got a chance to hear what the guest might have had to say. While it's always dangerous to give a platform to the extremists and pro-hate groups, it might be even more dangerous to cover our ears and pretend that they don't exist. Part of being able to combat evil is to know it; denial and ignorance has rarely taught us anything. Ironically, ignorance is the very thing that is used by pro-hate groups when they defend their views.

Years back, there were groups that wanted to ban Mein Kampf by Hitler because of its views. Regretably, this document is a piece of history, and should serve as a warning to future generations of the dangers of hate and violence. It does not propagate more hate if we're smart in our approach and educate people properly on the importance of tolerance. If you're going to fight a problem, you need to know what you're fighting against.

Pro-hate groups will do themselves in by their arguments, which are often entirely intellectually void and unsupported by things like science and reason. They should not be given a long leash to say and do whatever they want, but we should be aware of them and why they're wrong.

Stripping America's Rights

Getting caught with your pants down is going to take on a whole new meaning in the States, as the Supreme Court has decided that all arrested suspects may be subject to a strip search, even for a minor offense. Since the laws change from State to State, this could be for something as simple as forgetting to put on your seatbelt or some traffic violation of sorts. The argument is that this move is not excessive, since most criminals who perpetrate major crimes also commit minor crimes, sometimes on the way to committing major crimes. Which means that the seatbelt forgetting driver may also be a bomber in disguise and the only way to know, is to empower the police with the right to strip them down for explosives.

It's a spurious logic at best, considering that most of us don't think of our underwear as the primary place to hide explosives. 'Down there' should really be all about cottony softness and, on special occasions, lacey naughtiness. That's in consideration of the fact that most of us are normal.

But for that whacked out small percentage of crazies who are bent on wreaking havoc, it's really worth compromising the rights and decency of thousands of innocent citizens. After all, what is a strip search or false arrest or mistaken arrest followed by a strip search? Is it anything more than an 'inconvenience'? When you think of all the spectacular plots that will be overthrown, all the haters of America with their schemes foiled, will you really mind that cool breeze? That's the cool breeze of freedom, friends.

Yes, many people are arrested these days and sometimes, it's a mistake. The mistake could be something as simple as not being born white. It happens. Or the mistake could be someone not actually committing a crime. It also happens. But it appears that the American Supreme Court believes that the real crime is not protecting the country by subjecting people to humiliation and unnecessary fearmongering.

It was probably really difficult of them to uphold the basic principle of being considered innocent until proven guilty. By considering everyone guilty first, it's a real time saver for everyone involved in the legal process. Too bad that they exist to uphold the very principles that they're now violating.

Hold the Beef

It's a good time to become a vegetarian in Canada. This is a point which pains me, as I have to admit that I'm a hamburgers and spaghetti kind of kid, but it looks like those childhood comfort foods may be a thing of the past as the federal budget has promised cuts to food safety workers. This means that the safety and quality of meat within and outside Canada will be compromised and the chances of contracting some nasty condition or bacteria will be increased.

With memories of the 2008 Maple Leaf foods recall due to listeria still lingering in the public's mind, it's not a great time to propose cuts to one of life's essential needs. The government tabled cuts to government services and most of them were presented as things that we could live without; you know, the red tape kind of people, the back office jobs, not front of the line service delivery. Things that we might not miss, like paper pushers and bill stampers. But when you cut something like food safety, well, that's pretty important.

In fact, it's a public health issue. Any form of outbreak from meat products in Canada would not only be detrimental to consumers, it would also be lethal to farmers and food manufacturers and kill overseas exports. The spillover effect into our health care system would also be something of a concern, not to mention the possible long term effects of food poisoning like mad cow disease. Maybe the chances of that aren't strong in Canada, but the only people who could tell us that are the food safety people, who are, unfortunately, being eliminated.

Combine this little bit of news with the pink slime scandal in the United States, and all of a sudden, going vegetarian is no longer an issue of ethics or loving cute things covered in fur. It becomes a serious health concern for oneself and our long term health. Whether we're health conscious by choice or because of a healthy fear of death, most of us don't want to consume something subpar or potentially dangerous.

In a tight fiscal environment, there are many things that we can do without, but it's a pretty common truth that humans need food to live. This is not the best area to compromise in. Most people would probably rather wait an extra week to have their passport issued instead of cutting food safety workers and seeing the quality of our food go down the tubes. Especially since tubes are what we will be using, once we get sick.

Monday, April 2, 2012

From Hi Ho to Ho-Hum

There are a lot of career sites right now advocating that we should all go out there and achieve our goals. Helpful articles about training, retooling, strategizing, networking, using social networking and honing our career skills on off hours. All of them are flowing with can-do vigour, brimming with positivity, energizing us for hours of intense searching until we finally hit that golden nugget: the job of choice. The job that we want or that we're perfectly qualified for. Like a caffeine buzz, it hits us like a flash, and armed with thoughts of 'yes I can!', we hit the google job search button and start scrolling like we're Indiana Jones looking for clues in ancient text.

Then, like the caffeine buzz, so follows the crash. The majority of people are unhappy in their jobs. The reasons are various and unoriginal; overqualified, underemployed, working in a non-relevant sector, stuck in a career with no advancement opportunities, boredom, bad management, cut backs, overload. Faced with all these things, it makes sense that there are loads of encouraging articles to help motivate the masses. The 'you are here forever' articles probably didn't make the last editorial cut.

Here's the problem with the perky messages: despite their valiant attempt to prop up the worker and empower them with options, many of them do not have those options. With a hard-hit economy, many people are simply losing their jobs, regardless of satisfaction levels. With so many cuts, the prevalent attitude of employers is that the remaining workforce should be happy 'just to have a job' and this does not make them receptive to leave for training opportunities or the like. It also doesn't serve the purpose of most employers to have employees go on training for professional development when they are understaffed. This is a luxury afforded to companies in prosperous times.

Searching for new opportunities in off hours may sound like a viable option, but just like 'popping by the gym after work', this option is usually better as a thought rather than a reality. Many of us have items in our personal lives to attend to outside of work, and some days, we just want to go right home and plop ourselves onto the couch after dinner. That doesn't make us shiftless or unambitious; energy, like many other things in life, is finite.

So is there any good news out of all this? Well, the average worker is not alone in their thoughts, their feelings and their obstacles to a better life. And as the articles rightly state, it is a matter of personal choice to better one's life or situation. But maybe instead of chasing after the rainbow of the perfect job, we should look to be happy elsewhere, in some other aspect of our life. Unlike the top 1% that doesn't need to worry about work and making a living, most of us don't have the choice of loving what we do. We can't refuse to work, but we can refuse to be defined by our work.