Friday, 23 July 2010

Sedona: Hot Air Ballooning

Over 10 years ago, the family visited Sedona, a great place to visit by the way that everybody should put on a list at least once. During our week there, we planned on doing a hot air balloon ride but made the mistake of scheduling it for our last day. That particular day, the winds were not favourable so the ride was cancelled. Being our last day, we didn't have another opportunity to go for a ride. Ha! I still remember driving out of Sedona the next day back to the airport on a calm, sunny day and counting 8 balloons in the air around the town. Darn!

Consequently, when we decided to go to Sedona for a second time, I was determined to not make the same mistake. I booked a ride for us all but for early in the week. If we once again had bad luck with the winds, there was a good chance the next day or the following day would see us in the air. In any case, the lesson learned was to not book your flight for the last day of your vacation!

We arrived in Sedona on Saturday for our week long stay and had a day to unwind. On Monday, we got up at the ungodly hour of 4am to get ready before going to the pickup point to the central office of our resort. A truck company Red Rock Balloons came to pick us up at 5:25 and then our driver drove through the town of Sedona and continued in the national park to rendezvous with the rest of Red Rock group. I was given to understand that ballooning is something one does when the wind has died down as much as possible which seems to be either at sunrise or sunset hence, the "ungodly" hour of our flight.

Before you begin, the team always launches a trial balloon. By studying its trajectory, they can determine the strength of the winds and the currents at different altitudes, etc.; in short, if the winds are suitable and conducive to a launch. Obviously, if too much wind, a balloon ascent would be dangerous.

After five minutes of watching the test balloon, the team leader raised his thumb to indicate that they were going to start. Our truck and two other trucks of Red Rock including trailers containing the balloons themselves went to the launch point. A small bus full of other passengers joined us.

Once there, we noticed that there were two teams and two balloons. Our balloon, the largest, had a basket capable of holding twenty people while the smaller one was for ten.

Both teams set about removing the balloons and baskets from their trailers and setting them up. Part of this job was to unfold and stretch out the balloons themselves, a huge mass of what I guessed to be nylon fabric. Atop each basket, the teams set up a frame to which they attached a burner then attached the various ropes of the balloon to the frame. Interestingly enough, they anchored each basket to a truck before starting the process of blowing up the balloon. This entailed placing some large fans at the mouth of each balloon to inflate the fabric. Once the balloons were inflated, the pilots began to use the propane burners to heat up the air. As the air warmed, the balloons began to right themselves until they rose above the baskets. I asked as I stared up at the towering mass of inflated fabric and was told that each balloon had a height of 5 stories.

Boarding the basket was a bit of a novelty. Initially, the balloons and their baskets were laid out on their sides. Just before the balloon began to rise up due to the hot air and thus right the basket, the team partially fill the baskets by having some of the passengers essentially lie in it. Our basket of the largest balloon was divided into five compartments, four for passengers and a central one for the pilot. Half the passengers were ordered to get into each of four compartments, and when the balloon rose to the vertical, the passengers found themselves standing.

The rest of the passengers climbed on board and I did the same thing myself. Our driver gave a short speech on what to do in a balloon dotted of course with some jokes: "The smoking section is outside the basket."

I hadn't realized it but the basket had actually lifted off the ground. It was still tethered to one of the Red Rock trucks so the team could control when the launch actually took place. I was thinking with a smile of a funny scene where the balloon takes off with the entire truck dangling from it however I guessed that in reality, the balloon would never have enough lift to pick up a truck.

Finally, the driver yelled "Let's go!" and the ground crew detached the cables from the basket. Links to Mother Earth being cut, the basket and its 20 passengers rose from the clearing while floating silently above the treetops.

Silence reigned. This is the most striking feature of the flight that I remember. From time to time the pilot warmed the air in the balloon and we could all hear the swoosh of the propane burner but other than that, silence. We were floating in the air as if by magic. No plane, no rope, no other way to explain how we were hundreds of meters above the ground.

I have been in small planes over the years and of course, have been thrilled with flying. However, this experience has always been connected to a small plane, something which is noisy. In contrast, the balloon is totally silent. To stand in the basket and look around as you float with an incredible degree of calm and tranquillity without the noise of a propeller engine is a truly amazing experience. This seems strange to say but it is magic! Where is David Copperfield?

I think all the passengers gasped. The air in this region is clear, amazingly clear. This corner of the United States is not heavily industrialized, therefore there are no polluters. This morning was no exception. With such clarity, we could look quite a way into the distance. In addition, the sky was completely blue, no clouds, and we were all bathed in sunshine; the sun was just creeping above the horizon.

At the highest point of our flight, the pilot reached an altitude of 700 meters or approximately 2200 feet and at the lowest point, we touched a pond. Ah, here's the story of the pond.

We were floating near the ground, trying to see the fauna and flora. Slowly, we approached a pond. The pilot told us that often, he was able to perform a manoeuvre called "Splash and Dash" and since we ended up just above a pond, he would try to do it.

First, I should clarify the term "pilot" a balloon. An airship or dirigible balloon may be directed. Nevertheless, a balloon or a hot air balloon cannot be directed as such. The pilot can raise the balloon by heating the air or let it descend by letting the air cool but it cannot really direct the balloon. The balloon and its pilot are pretty much at the mercy of the wind. Yes, there are flaps with which a driver let out air, however the true piloting of a balloon is in understanding the currents of air and how air moves in a different way depending on the altitude. Our pilot spoke of the city of Albuquerque in the state of New Mexico, where every fall, there is a balloon festival, supposedly the best place for such an event. Apparently, at one altitude there is a current of air that moves away from the city and at another altitude there is another current of air that returns to the city. Consequently, the airmen can take a ride if they follow the proper air flow. In Sedona, the wind always blows in the same direction: we start from a point in a national park and we get to the other side of the park at the end of our journey.

Above the pond, the pilot pointed out to us that we could see the reflection of the balloon in water and of course ourselves, too. I looked down and the surface reflected the bottom of the basket, the faces of the other passengers peeking over the side and the huge balloon over our heads. Everyone took a photo. Slowly, we descended until the bottom of the basket touched the water surface and then the pilot turned the burner to warm the air and we rose once again. That was our "splash", touching the water, and our "dash", taking off again.

The region around the town of Sedona is typical for this part of the United States. It looks like the Grand Canyon and I was struck by the significance of this comparison. Normally, when you look at the mountains, you are seeing the phenomenon where tectonic plates have collided pushing up the land to form said mountains. In comparison, this region was formed by the action of water. It was submerged in an ancient ocean and the canyons and valleys represent the erosion of the earth. When you look at a mound, hill, higher ground, you tend to regard them as a mountain yet, in reality, the higher ground is usually ground level and you are actually below ground level.

When we were in the balloon, floating above the valley and had a panoramic view of the city of Sedona, the valley, the hills, the so-called remote mountains, I realized where we were. There were no mountains; we were in a trough, an area below ground level. The tops of these mountains, the "elevations" were in fact ground level.

Sedona is situated in a valley where half is occupied by the city and the other by a national park. Our launch has taken place from one side of the park, we were swept away by the wind through the park and we finally landed at the other side of the park just outside it. I asked the pilot how he planned the landing and he explained that it depended on the wind. Sometimes, depending on conditions, he was forced to land on private property, a ranch. However, despite the invasion by these balloons, the ranch owners seemed to warmly welcome these fliers.

All in all, a hot air balloon ride is a very unique experience. It's not cheap, but I can tell you it is not something you'll forget. If I can jokingly refer to the movie critics, I give ballooning 2 thumbs up!


References

Wikipedia: Hot Air Ballooning
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_air_ballooning

Wikipedia: Hot Air Balloon
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_air_balloon

Red Rock Balloons
http://www.redrockballoons.com

Red Rock Balloons: Photos
http://www.redrockballoons.com/photos.html



You don't necessarily have to go all the way to Sedona, Arizona for a hot air balloon ride. A quick search on Google revealed a number of companies in and around Toronto which offer this unique experience. Check it out!

Google: Toronto Hot Air Balloon Rides
http://www.google.ca/#hl=en&source=hp&q=toronto+hot+air+balloon+rides&aq=0&aqi=g2&aql=&oq=toronto+hot+air+balloo&gs_rfai=&fp=c16266ce76fb5c29

2010-07-22

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Thursday, 22 July 2010

Nuit Blanche: October 2, 2010


Toronto will celebrate this year the 5th time it has participated in this all night arts festival. For those of you who have never joined in the fun, this annual all-nighter started back in 1997 supposedly in Paris where revellers spent the entire night taking in various artistic endeavours. Today, the idea has found its way into a number of major cities across the globe (Montréal, Tokyo, Madrid, Brussels, Copenhagen, etc.) where people of all ages, artists and spectators alike get together to share their passion for art. Here, they take over various spots in the downtown core to enjoy a different perspective on art in Toronto.

Scotiabank, the sponsor of the event here in Toronto, has put together a collection of pictures of the various "happenings" which have been a part of this show.

http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/archives.shtml

Unfortunately, my wife and I missed the 2009 Nuit Blanche because we were out of town, but 2008 was fabulous. Living in the downtown core put us close to the action and we had a grand time wandering around.

In Grange Park, we ended up part of an audience participation event which involved some performers guiding us through the rhythmic stomping of our feet. The Ontario College and Art & Design was open with displays put on by its students; by the way, the OCAD building itself is quite the "work of art".

The two of us walked up Beverley and ran into a number of events. One involved the curious idea of removing the entire contents of a house and setting them up on the street. Apparently, in the morning, a team of people came and put everything back.

At the University of Toronto, in the middle of King's Circle, we ran into a large tent where theatre pieces were being presented. The Gardiner Museum was open and free and we watched an artist producing a wall size work of art.

My wife and I finally hit the sack around 2am but in reading the paper on Sunday, we realized we had merely scratched the surface of everything that was going on. All in all, a good time, an unusual time, something you just have to experience to understand what it's all about.

Mark it down and don't miss it:

a free all-night contemporary art event

Saturday, October 2, 2010!

6:57pm to sunrise




References

Google: Toronto Nuit Blanche
http://www.google.ca/#num=10&hl=en&safe=off&q=toronto+nuit+blanche&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbo=u&tbs=nws:1&source=og&sa=N&tab=wn&fp=45594ad3fad1e662


Wikipedia: Nuit Blanche
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuit_Blanche

Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Toronto
http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/home.shtml

The 2010 Event: Front to St. Clair, Don Valley to Landsdowne
http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/zone.shtml

2010-07-21

Movie Review: Toy Story 3 in 3D


Toy Story 3 is another in a long line of commercial and artistic successes for Pixar Animation Studios. This computer-animated film is the third installment of the Toy Story series and brings together all of the familiar characters. One may have suspected that the creators would have run out of new, original ideas but I am pleased to report that the script turned out to be a refreshing entertainment of the highest quality. Without any hesitation, I can recommend this film for the entire family, a "wholesome" film.

I do not want to be issuing any spoiler alerts but will restrict myself to saying that the story line follows the first 2 films. Andy, the main "human" character, the owner of the toys, is now 17 and about to head off to college. The question is what will happen to his toys now that his life is moving on. From there, the adventure begins.

Surprising me with something original and unexpected is a sure formula for making me laugh heartily and I must say that Pixar delivered with the one scene with Buzz Lightyear when his friends try to "reset" him. I don't want to spoil it but I can say that I did not see it coming and when it did arrived, I laughed out loud.

Pixar

In reviewing this film, I thought I would take a look back on Pixar itself and was somewhat astounded to see the accomplishments this company has racked up. Just look at this incomplete list of their films: Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E and Up. The web site Rotten Tomatoes has gone so far as to call Pixar the most critically acclaimed film studio of all time. High praise, indeed!

Started in 1979 as part of Lucasfilm, the company at first worked in the background in the area of special effects. Steve Jobs bought the company in 1986 after he left Apple Computer and the company continued in the development of specialized computers sold primarily to the government and medical organizations and also to Disney Studios. However, poor sales of these systems saw the company's animation department doing more and more computer-animated commercials for other companies.

During this time, the company struck up a deal to produce 3 computer-animated features, the first one being Toy Story. The rest, so they say, is history.

Disney Studios acquired Pixar in 2006 and although wholly owned by Disney, continues as a separate company.

While more original films are in the offing, Pixar does have plans for further sequels such as Cars 2 and Monsters, Inc. 2.

3D Films

The idea of showing an image with the illusion of depth perception has been around since almost the beginning of photography. The same is true for movies. Commercial 3D films have existed since the 1950's however have been very much a niche market due to the costs involved in making and showing such films.

In the mid-80's, 3D films began a revival of sorts. IMAX produced several special titles within its theatre systems and Disney theme parks began using 3D to impress its audiences; Francis Ford Coppola's Captain EO starring Michael Jackson is a notable example.

From 1990 onwards, 3D production continued still as a niche market, although, by 2004, supposedly 54% of the IMAX theatres were 3D capable.

From 2003 to the present day, more and more films have come out in a 3D format. Film makers have taken note of the public's seemingly growing taste for this kind of movie experience and as the number of productions has gone up, the number of theatres outfitted to show 3D has grown. James Cameron of Terminator, Titanic and Avatar fame is predicting 3D will replace 2D as the standard not only for film, but for television and online content all within the next 25 years. On the other hand, famed critic Roger Ebert call 3D merely a gimmick.

Let's run down a short select list of 3D films in 2010 which have already come out or will be out this year:

Alice In Wonderland
Avatar
Toy Story 3
Despicable Me
Step Up 3D
Piranha 3D
MegaMind
Tron Legacy

No doubt about it; there is something of a movement to 3D. Will it in the end replace 2D as Mr. Cameron is predicting?


References

Wikipedia: Toy Story 3
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toy_Story_3

Wikipedia: Pixar
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixar

Wikipedia: 3-D Film
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3-D_film

Los Angeles Times: Overall receipts include heftier 3D ticket prices
http://articles.latimes.com/2010/may/08/entertainment/la-et-summer-20100508

James Cameron: 3D is the future
http://www.modernghana.com/news/275656/1/3d-is-the-future-james-cameron.html

Roger Ebert: Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too)
http://www.newsweek.com/2010/04/30/why-i-hate-3-d-and-you-should-too.html

2010-07-21

Movie Review: Inception: My Dream Critique

My movie review in one word: deception.

My wife and I saw the movie in IMAX and while she loved it, I walked away thinking, "Mmm." The film is well crafted with a superb group of actors. The images were sometimes stunning and the special effects were in places quite amazing. So, how can I go against the tide of public opinion?

The Story
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief who steals information from people by entering their dreams. By using a device which seems to furnish a drug intravenously to more than one person at a time, Dom can create various scenarios between the people in the dream of the "target" who is also hooked up to the device. Dom is hired by the owner of a corporation to do what is presented as "never been done before": implant an idea in the mind of a rival so as to change the rival's plans and derail said plan to the benefit of the owner. The subplot is that Dom is accused of murdering his wife and so cannot return to the United States. The deal presented by the owner to Dom is that if Dom is successful, he, the owner, will ensure Dom is cleared of all charges and can return to see his children.

The Premise
Every movie has a premise. For Superman, we have to accept a man with superhuman powers. For The Matrix, we have to accept humans can be plugged into a computer system which generates an alternate reality. For Star Trek, we have to accept that it is the 23rd century. Each of these premises requires our suspension of disbelief; we must accept the premise in order to follow the story.

Inception's premise is quite simply that one can create dreams, one can participate in the dreams of others and these dreams represent an "alternate reality" in which the normal laws of physics are suspended. However, unlike other movies which explain quite clearly and plausibly how this alternate reality was achieved, Inception's use of dreams paints an incomplete picture of the process leaving unanswered questions and holes in the original assertion. How can one enter the dream of another? How can a group of people share the same dream? How is this dreaming achieved? How is this dreaming different from the dreams one has when one sleeps normally?

Alternate Realities
The computer generated reality of The Matrix allowed within the context of the story for a complete suspension of the laws of physics. As such, this opened the doors for the makers, the Wachowski Brothers to put together visually stunning scenes of what is impossible in the real world. The result was some jaw dropping special effects including the ground breaking "bullet time" movie technique.

Nolan's Inception attempts to do exactly the same thing: an alternate reality suspends the laws of physics and we see scenes which defy the real world. Nevertheless, the connector, the logical glue which binds the story together is weak. Humorously enough, any premise requires us to believe in the unbelievable, to accept the impossible or the entire movie doesn't work. Mr. Nolan has aimed high but failed to fill in the blanks to provide a premise which although impossible is plausible.

Nevertheless, the film goes ahead with its plan to exploit the alternate reality by creating movie scenes which defy physics. While these scenes are startling visually and on their own, taken out of context provide a stunning example of what modern special effects can achieve, the imperfect premise of the entire production leaves one with a furrowed brow. It is no longer a question of defying credibility; it is a question of leaving one perplexed, confused and searching to fill in the blanks to work out a logical explanation of the story.

Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan, the director and the screenwriter has a substantial string of successes under his belt. Going through the list of his films is astounding and surely is indicative of a talent far above the norm. Most people would know him as part of the very successful "reboot" of the Batman movies, especially the last one in the series The Dark Knight which saw a posthumous Oscar going to Heath Ledger.

Let me repeat the Wikipedia entry showing a list of Mr. Nolan's films showing their ratings from Rotten Tomatoes:

Following: 80%
Memento: 93%
Insomnia: 92%
Batman Begins: 85%
The Prestige: 75%
The Dark Knight: 93%
Inception: 85%

The average rating for the above films is 86%. Obviously, this man would seem to spell gold for any film company buying into one of his projects.

Time Travel and Parallel Universes
Science fiction has been dealing with the subject of time travel for a very long time. Considering that such a topic is the realm of theory not reality, it reminds me of science fiction's alternative name: speculative fiction. I remember quite well the first book I read which had a theme of time travel: The Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury. I was 12. Interesting, thought provoking, a host of adjectives have probably been used after consultation with Mr. Roget to expound on people's fascination for this idea however, I have been progressively becoming disenchanted with this premise. I seem to be seeing more and more instances of where the author develops a story and inadvertently paints himself into a corner. How to get out? Time travel! What? The butler didn't do it; some other unknown character went into the future or back in time and "did it".

The same holds true for parallel universes. The butler didn't do it; a character from some other plane of existence went through a worm hole and did it. Huh?

Dreams
I am now adding "dreams" to the list. Like time travel and parallel universes, dreams open the door to the infinite number of possibilities and therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub. It is no longer a question of stringing together the probable: yes the butler did it; you can construct absolutely anything you want based on the original premise: the butler didn't do it, you dreamed who did it. Who cares about what's probable; let's just pull any time traveled, parallel universe dreamed up rabbit out of our hat.

On top of that, I note that authors sometimes up the ante by telling us how really, really, really difficult something is in the context of the story. I'm afraid I cringe at the point of any film or story which presents me with a premise I've never seen then has one of the protagonists utter something like, "This has never been done before." Since I've never seen the premise before, I have absolutely nothing to which I can compare the idea of "never been done before". For me, it's not impressive; it's meaningless. It comes across as a deliberate, calculated attempt to impress me which fails... ah, impressively.


Alert: No Spoiler Alert
I'm not spilling the beans. I'm certain those of you who love science fiction will go see this film. After all the coverage elsewhere; after all I've said here how could you not want to go check it out? The opening weekend for the film clocked in at $62 million which is considered quite respectable however the list I've found of the biggest opening weekends (see below) is an interesting look at the public's taste in movies. Avatar, for a comparison, came in at $77 million but we could say that Mr. Nolan is under-performing with this film since his last project The Dark Knight is at the top of the list with $158 million.

In any case, this review shows my own particularities in taste. I like Star Trek; I've watched all the TV shows and have seen all the movies but when the entire family went to see the latest Star Trek, the attempt to reboot the franchise, I was the only one in the family who seemed to be lukewarm about it. We all saw Inception; I'm the one who says, "Ho hum". Picky, picky, you say? Well, how about The Matrix? There's a film that truly captured my imagination and somehow, I don't quite see Inception Reloaded and Inception Revolutions coming out any time soon.

Did you read this review or did you dream you did? I for one will be dreaming about Batman 3, supposedly Nolan's next project. By the way, if you have the choice, you might as well see Inception in IMAX. I'm just sorry Inception did not come out in 3D; that would have been an interesting addition.


References

Wikipedia: Inception
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inception_%28film%29

Wikipedia: Christopher Nolan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Nolan

Films: Biggest Opening Weekends
http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/weekends/

Wikipedia: Batman 3 (2012)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman_in_film#Third_film_.282012.29

Wikipedia: The Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury (1952)
--> the most re-published science fiction story of all time.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sound_of_Thunder

Inception in 5 Seconds
Uploaded by HouseOfFlyingSporks on Sep 24, 2010
Five seconds = 5 minutes = five hours = five years...


2010-07-20

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Management: Rules vs. the Impossible

A municipal project took place a few years ago to expand the subway system. During the 2 years of construction, I witnessed an interesting phenomenon which gave this article its title.

Expanding the subway system involved the digging of tunnels around a major intersection. During the tunnelling, traffic had to rerouted several times. This rerouting entailed the setting up of concrete barriers to divert traffic first to one side of the intersection then to the other depending on where the tunnelling was taking place. Standing at a window in a tall building beside the intersection, I could watch the flow of vehicles forced into lanes which lead the vehicles around the areas of construction.

During this time, I was out on a major highway when I ran into a traffic jam which brought everything to a dead halt. As I sat in my car, I turned to a local radio station in an attempt to find out if there was an accident up ahead causing the back-up and whether or not I would be better off to just get off the highway altogether. As I debated with myself what to do, I was looking at my limited options as the next exit, although in view, was still a bit of a ways up the highway. Getting to it would mean I would have to drive on the shoulder for quite a distance; something I figured was not kosher and was probably worth a ticket.

All of a sudden, beside me first one, then two then three cars go driving by me on the shoulder. Obviously, they had concluded that waiting for the traffic to clear was not the best bet and had decided to take matters into their own hands by using the shoulder to drive to the next exit to get off the highway. I looked around me. I could see no police so even if this action contravened the traffic laws, there weren't any policemen at the moment to enforce those laws so in essence, and anybody could do what they pleased without any fear of reprisals by the law.

Later on the same day, I was back in the tall building overlooking the intersection where the subway tunnelling was going on. I looked at the concrete barriers and how traffic was being diverted. The barriers were forcing traffic to go somewhere; anybody in a vehicle had no choice but to follow the lanes defined by the concrete barriers. I thought about the people driving on the shoulder up the highway to the next exit to get off the highway and avoid sitting in the traffic jam.

It occurred to me that we, society, have set up laws to define a certain behaviour we collectively find acceptable. You drive on the highway, not the shoulder. This behaviour is defined by law and if we do not ascribe to this behaviour, society enforces the law by handing out tickets, punishing the offender. However, as noted by the absence of police to enforce the desired behaviour, people will do what they want even if this behaviour is by definition, illegal.

As I looked at the concrete barriers, I realised that people were physically prevented from doing anything but what was defined. They couldn't drive on the shoulder because the concrete barrier prevented them from going anywhere but in the defined lane. Even if there were no police, the driver of a vehicle could only go in the prescribed route. There was no way somebody could contravene the law; it was physically impossible.

What a curiosity. On the highway, we have a situation where we hope people will obey the law: do not drive on the shoulder; always drive in the designated lanes. We know they do not always do so and consequently, we have to have police to enforce those laws. At the intersection, at the subway construction site, people are physically stopped by the concrete barrier and can only go where they are told to go. No police are necessary; no law enforcement is necessary. Physically, you cannot break the law.

Are there other areas of life where we can see such an idea? No policing is necessary; people are physically prevented from breaking the rules. That seems simple. If I want you to write with a blue pen, I only have to take all of your pens away and just give you a blue one. Now you can't write in any other colour because you don't have another colour pen.

Unfortunately, it seems, as I reflect on this, that probably for the most part our lives are governed by rules, not physical limitations. The rule is to drive at 100 km/h but I am not physically prevented from breaking the speed limit. Consequently, society has the police to enforce the rule. Hmmm, if we had cars that physically couldn't go any faster than 100 km/h...

2010-07-21

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Toronto: New Arrests over G20 Vandalism

On Wednesday, July 14, 2010, police released photos of their top 10 vandal suspects. On Friday, July 16, newspapers reported that Toronto police had arrested 2 men in connection with criminal activity that took place during the G20 Summit in Toronto. Today, Tuesday, July 20, Toronto police have announced another 7 arrests: 2 on Sunday and 5 on Monday. The list of charges ranges from mischief over $5,000 to arson and theft.

Opinion
There have been quite a number of articles after the summit talking about an investigation of the police in regards to their actions during the summit. Were rights trampled? Were officers unfair to protesters?

I live in downtown Toronto. I was witness during the G20 summit of behaviour ranging from criminal on the part of the Black Bloc to reprehensible and stupid on the part of the protesters. While the crowd chanted "Whose streets? My streets!" I noted that these people did not, in fact, live in the downtown core and probably not even in Toronto. I watched windows being smashed, police cars torched and outrageous acts against the members of the various police forces on hand to maintain order. I'm not talking about watching this on TV; I'm talking about watching this right out my front door, in my neighbourhood!

In the past couple of days, there has been amusing coverage of the "bubbles incident" where a young lady was threatened with arrest if she blew bubbles at an officer. Everybody is laughing about this and everyone is using this as an example of how the police were being over-reactive in their duties. Let me tell you about the other side of the coin.

I watched people deliberately take up an aggressive and confrontational stance with individual policemen. One young couple stood in front of a row of riot cops and screamed about their rights and freedoms all while peppering their diatribe with the F word. It was as if any one of those individual police officers was somehow personally responsible for the ills of the world and that these individual officers were somehow able to do something at that very moment to correct those ills.

I watched another man, armed with a wooden stick which I think may have been used to hold up a flag, continually poke at the shield of a riot cop. Think about that one. A guy with a stick pokes at the shield of a policeman. First of all, the cop outweighs the guy by about 25 kilos. Secondly, the riot cop is all decked out with a Kevlar vest, a helmet, a baton and a shield. Plus, I'm sure he was armed. This is not the time or place to be testing Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedom; you are just going to end up pissing the cop off and getting your ass royally kicked. I found these actions to be reprehensible, confrontational and just plain stupid.

At the corners of Beverley and Queen, at approximately 7pm on Saturday, June 26, a group of protesters were face to face with the police. This was after the 1st police cruiser had been set on fire down the street on Queen close to Spadina. The mounted police had been brought in for crowd control. As I watched, several people threw things at the police and these were not Black Bloc people as I did not see any Black Bloc around at this time. One object arced over the crowd and hit a mounted policeman and knocked him off his horse. What!?! I was furious! This was unconscionable. Of course the police reacted and quite rightly so. I imagine people were angry at the police but just how long can you keep poking somebody before they react?

Let me come back to the bubble girl. I'm sure she meant well; I'm sure she was being peaceful in this agitated maelstrom but I also see this as just another attempt to poke the cops, push their buttons and flip the bird at authority. Did the police over-react? Probably. Did the protesters for their part deserve it? Probably. Overall, things got quite out of control on both sides.

Canada is a great country. We are free. I fully support protest as an integral part of our democratic process but there were a lot of mistakes on both sides. The recent arrest of 10 men is very much deserved and I am outraged at these people derailing the protests and undermining our peaceful, democratic society. On Saturday, June 26, 2010 when I walked out of my condo building and started filming the burning police car, I thought I had walked onto the set of the next apocalyptic movie. Let's get rid of the resident evil by arresting the evil residents.


My Complete Photos and Videos of the OMG-20
http://picasaweb.google.com/108992040576344816933/G20SummitToronto20100626#

Day 1: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'll show you!
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-ill-show-you.html

Day 2: The G20 Summit in Toronto: I'm shocked. Here?
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-im-shocked-here.html

Day 3: The G20 Summit in Toronto: Thank God It's Over!
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-its-over.html

Aftermath and Afterthoughts
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/06/g20-summit-in-toronto-aftermath.html

2010-07-20

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Hate! Hate! Hate! Kill! Kill! Kill!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010: I go through the morning news:
  • On Sunday, during the World Cup final, a Somali based terrorist organization called the Shabab detonated several bombs in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, killing at least 70 people.
  • In Northern Ireland, the annual July 12 Orange Day march was marred by extensive rioting between Catholics and Protestants that saw 80 police personnel hurt, cars torched and widespread vandalism.
  • The Prime Minister of Pakistan, in a speech before a rally organized by outlawed anti-India militant groups, has vowed to fight India for control of the disputed areas of Kashmir; all this just days before the highest level visit from India since militants linked to Pakistan killed 166 people in Mumbai in 2008.
  • An aid ship organized by a Libyan charity is trying to reach Gaza while violating a naval blockade set up by Israel. The IDF (Israeli Defence Force) is preparing for a forceful interception of the ship.
Okay, at what point do I say, "What the heck?" or "What the hell?" or even "WTF?" Jee-sus H. K. Rist, is this ever going to stop? The above is only a sampling of what I read. This doesn't cover the tensions with North Korea, the killing of 3 British soldiers by a renegade Afghan soldier or the continuing problems with the relief efforts in Haiti. Even Jennifer Lopez is in trouble over cancelling a concert at a resort in Northern Cyprus because she didn't want to make a political statement. According to Greek Cypriots, such a concert would have signalled support of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus; Cyprus has been divided since the 1970's when Turkey invaded the island's northern region.

Taking all of this into account, you now see where the title of this article came from. It just goes on and on and on and on. John Lennon sang, "Give Peace A Chance" however we are collectively so far from that ever happening, it will not be surprising if we don't just end up blowing ourselves up. After all, even Castro making a rare appearance after giving up power to his brother, gave some dire warnings about a possible nuclear conflict between the U.S. and Iran. Oh boy, let's go back to the good old days of the 50's when school children were taught to respond to the warning sirens by hiding under their classroom desks.

A poster has been floating around years; I first saw it back in the 60's, at the height of the Cold War and have always found it to be a hilarious look at the absurdity of a nuclear war.

OFFICE OF CIVILIAN DEFENCE
WASHINGTON D.C
Instructions to patrons on premises in case of nuclear bomb attack.

  1. Stay clear of all windows.
  2. Keep hands free of glasses, bottles, cigarettes etc.
  3. Stand away from bar, tables, orchestra, equipment and furniture.
  4. Loosen necktie, unbutton coat and any other restrictive clothing.
  5. Remove glasses, empty pockets of all sharp objects such as pens, pencils etc.
  6. Immediately upon seeing the brilliant flash of nuclear explosion place your head firmly between the legs.
  7. THEN KISS YOUR ASS GOODBYE.


Where is the world going? According to stats from the U.S. Census Bureau, worldwide, over 56 million people will die in 2010 or 107 per minute or over 6,400 per hour. However, the service also states that over 130 million people will be born so that will give us an increase in 2010 of over 76 million people. Gee, with all those extra people, I suppose we could afford to lose a few, eh?


Enough digressions, let's get back to hatin' and killin'!

I must be virginal when it comes to hate or maybe I am just easily flabbergasted but I continue to be amazed at the level of anger which exists in the world. All John was saying was give peace a chance but did we listen? Did we try?

In a previous article, I spoke of a school where various people seem to be able to get along.

A friend is the principal of a public school in an area where the students come from all over the world, from all sorts of backgrounds. The school board publishes a school calendar on which is noted every religious holiday and celebration for everybody: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddha, Bahá'í, etc. and all students are always made aware of everybody else's observances. In fact, ofttimes the entire school celebrates various festivals so that everybody is observing Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali or Ramadan.

I remember seeing not only the students but the teaching staff all sporting Indian henna art for Diwali. It was a wonderful example of multiculturalism. Leave it up to children who come to the table with a clean slate to show the rest of us how getting along is possible.


Salman Hossain

This Muslim extremist, a home grown dyed in the wool Canadian has left Canada out of fear of arrest for promoting hatred running a web site to advocate his radical ideas. From the National Post:

Over the past three years, Salman Hossain has openly called for terrorist attacks in Canada, cheered the killing of Canadian troops in Afghanistan and urged fellow Muslims to "exterminate" Canada's Jewish population.

The message on his web site is one of anger, hate and a call to violence. He offers no rational arguments, no solutions, no viable alternatives to what he perceives as wrong; he merely suggests that killing and destruction are somehow better than what we have. This man exhibits such a focused, vitriolic rage; one can't help wondering about its antecedents and whether his sanity is in question. I predict he is going to have a sad life. Such rage will never be satisfied; such hate will never be quenched.


Baruch Goldstein

A comment to my article on Mr. Hossain read, "Gee-sus H. K. Ryest? That comes across as about as 'tolerant' as Baruch Goldstein". I had forgotten the name but once I looked him up, I remembered his 15 minutes.

Baruch was an American-born orthodox Jewish Israeli physician who in 1994 perpetrated the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, killing 29 Muslims and wounding more than 125. He was a member of the Jewish Defence League, a militant organization founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultra-nationalist. The FBI has stated that "The Jewish Defence League has been deemed a right-wing terrorist group".

By the way, to the person writing the comment that I am "about as tolerant as Baruch Goldstein":
  • First of all, I do not advocate such acts. I think I'm pretty tolerant.
  • Secondly, did you look at Hossain's web site? He IS advocating such acts.


I'm right and you're wrong. I'm far right and you're dead wrong.

I look at the above 2 names with a great deal of sadness: such anger, such hate with only one way out, to kill. I think of the public school mentioned above where children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds live together in harmony. The contrast between these ideas is remarkable.

The Camp David Accords, signed in 1978 by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin seemed like an unbelievable breakthrough in the Middle East. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by right-wing elements in Egypt.

I was both stunned and pleased at the Oslo Accords being signed by Israel and the PLO in 1993 in the presence of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. I thought these would be another breakthrough. Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli radical.

Where is the world going? Instead of fighting, we should be working together to fight global warming, capping the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, bringing the basics of life to the poverty stricken areas of the planet. The world's military spending stands at over $1.5 trillion per year while the U.S. alone accounting for 46% of the total. This means that $225 per person is being spent for military purposes for every man, woman and child on earth and right now the global population stands at over 6 billion.

It may be corny; it may be a Utopian ideal but John did have a vision:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...


References

U.S. Census Bureau: world statistics
http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/ipc/pcwe

Salman Hossain: Spit Take: Here? In Canada? - July 8, 2010
http://wqebelle.blogspot.com/2010/07/spit-take-salman-hossain.html

Wikipeda: Baruch Goldstein
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baruch_Goldstein

World Military Spending
http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending

2010-07-14

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Sex: I'm a man and you're a...

I'm a man and you're a sl*t. There, I've said it. I know you don't like it; I know you're going to be angry with me but that is the truth. Yes? The fundamental reality we all live with can be expressed in these basest of terms: if a man sleeps around; he's a man; if a woman sleeps around; she's a sl*t. Why? That doesn't seem at all fair, does it?

It's a man's world. A woman may not like it but that seems to be a fact. Far better scholars than I have studied it, analysed it and written about it. History explains the antecedents of this patriarchal society in which we live while modern intellectuals who question the status quo have asked and still ask why we must continue to do what we've been doing. Change comes slowly; traditions die hard; don't rock the boat.

The Double Standard
The Women's Liberation Movement has long talked about this phenomenon which has existed in our society; the double standard which is applied to men and women. The saying is "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" but in relation to the double standard, it means that what is good for the gander is not necessarily what the goose gets.

Women did not get the right to vote in Canada and the United States (with exceptions) until the 1920's. Women were considered chattel. While North American society has changed, I am of the opinion that a lot of it has to do with veneer. Yes, we have laws about equality in the workplace but that doesn't mean that there is equality in the workplace. As a man, all I have to do is stand around the water cooler with other men and follow the conversation. Nobody is listening; nobody will criticize; what are you going to say? Sometimes, it's surprising to hear what guys do say.

True Story
I work with a guy who is the typical macho: still plays sports with the guys and does semi-dangerous activities. When we talk, he talks to me in that sort of man to man way, as if we're sharing something that only men can share. From time to time when he's talks about his wife, he presents her as a bit of an airhead: she likes to shop; she doesn't like to work; she thinks money grows on trees and he's going to keep providing her with it. Such dialogue is usually accompanied by eyes rolled to the ceiling. I know he's trying to be funny, funny in a chauvinist way but I have to confess being slightly perplexed by this. Why? I would never say such things. First of all, I wouldn't marry an airhead. Secondly, and this for me is the kicker, how macho, how manly can any guy be if he sits down with other men and confesses that he's married such a woman? That's like saying he's married the mistake of his life; he admits his wife is inferior to other wives.

The Female Eunuch
This book by Germaine Greer was published in 1970. In a nutshell, it said that men hate women; women don't realize this and they are taught to hate themselves. The traditional family represses women sexually and is an environment where we see the continuation of the power struggle of men over women.

I read it immediately. I was 18 years old.

I had already suspected that what I had learned, what I had seen around me, what society had been passing off to me, didn't really represent reality. I grew up in the 50's family model: man works; wife stays at home and raises the kids. This book confirmed my suspicions. Tradition did give us a structure, a framework for our lives and our society but at the same time stifled our ability to critically examine ourselves.

Since this time, however, I have very much grown to appreciate how difficult and slow change, true change can be. We as a nation can enact laws against gender discrimination but that does not mean people will not continue to practise it. I return to the men talking around the water cooler. Yes, we all say out loud that women are welcome but that does not necessarily mean that when we have 2 candidates in front of us for a job, one man and one woman, we might not just favour the man because... well, he's a guy. There's a joke in there about two heads being better than one but I will try and keep myself above board.

The S Word
I love Chris Rock. As a comedian he has a keen perception of our modern times; as a black man, he tells it like it is in America. In telling it like it is, Chris does resort to colourful language and I add here that only a black man can get away with using the N word. That particular word has such emotional force, such a history attached to it that merely uttering the word out loud in public is enough to send a shiver down the back of anybody within earshot. And if you're white and saying that word (Hello Michael Richards!), I would strongly advise you to make sure your will is up to date.

The S word also has a big impact. Qualifying a woman with that word is tantamount to heaping on her the sum total of all scorn we as a society have for any female who expresses the slightest amount of interest in sex. Now think about that for a second. If a man goes out and has sex with 10 women, he's a stud. If a woman goes out and has sex with 10 men, she's a sl*t. Stud = positive, sl*t = negative. How curious. We equate male sexual prowess as a good thing but we equate female sexuality as bad. But why?

The Hite Report
Shere Hite released her report on female sexuality in 1976 and her report on male sexuality in 1981. I read both.

I've never forgotten the book about men and the one specific thing she discovered in her research. There was this reoccurring theme to the answers from men: men were convinced that women do not like sex.

What? But the more I thought about it, the more that made sense. We men are told to get out there and chase women. We discover that women hold back, are particular, are careful in the selection of a mate, only want to "do it" after marriage, etc. Gee, why wouldn't we get the idea women don't like sex?

What an odd situation. Men are guided by society to want to marry a woman who is worthwhile, of value, a woman who is not a sl*t. But in doing so, men are marrying somebody who doesn't like sex. Men want sex. Men think they need a sl*t. Geesh, are we going around in circles here?

I've heard researchers try to explain all this by describing the primordial difference between the sexes: men are wired to spread their seed; women are wired to bear and raise children. This translates into men running around looking for places to deposit their seed and women trying to set up a successful environment for children. I'm sure my summation is quite simplistic but this is an idea I've heard from the pundits. Gee, where's Desmond Morris when you need him? (The Naked Ape, 1967)

What's it all about, Alfie?
There's no doubt about it; we are a confused species. We have been following roles which have existed on this planet since the beginning of time and now that we're looking at those roles with a critical eye, we are totally thrown for a loop in understanding those roles and figuring out not only what we're doing, but what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong. Let's not forget that change comes slowly because we don't necessarily like change. I could say something amusing about inertia but I truly believe we have a difficult time changing because we don't like instability. Change involves tearing down beliefs and that means instability. At some point we will replace those beliefs but during the transition period, we are going to have to deal with some shakiness.


The Water Cooler
We enact laws; we force people to act a certain way. We build a social norm; we ostracize people if they don't conform. However, we can't always control their thoughts and people can be quite chameleon like depending on their circumstances. At the office, in public, somebody can put on a good show for gender equality then go home and beat the wife if not physically, at least psychologically. Laws try to force everyone to not commit a crime but will we arrive at a point where everybody does not want to commit a crime? Gender equality may be written into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, but the man-talk around the water cooler will be the true litmus test of whether or not gender equality exists in society.


Final Word
I sometimes read an opinion piece such as this one and not being totally familiar with the material, I know that I either do not react because it is all quite a distance from my own everyday life or I may doubt what the author says and not necessarily take the time to prove the author right or wrong. In other words, the message gets lost in the daily shuffle of my life.

I would ask that you, the reader, to remember the following:
  • In 1989, in Montréal, Marc Lépine killed 14 women claiming that feminism had ruined his life.
  • In British Columbia, Robert Pickton, jailed in 2007, has been convicted of murdering 6 women, charged with the murder of 20 other women and claims to have murdered 49 women in total.
  • Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman, has been condemned to die by stoning because she is an adulterer. The men in question face no prosecution about this matter.
  • Every year approximately 25,000 women die from botched abortions in Africa and yet, not one man is harmed.
Are men confused about women? You bet. Do we have gender equality? I think not. Are we ever going to get things sorted out? Let's hope we don't have to wait until hell freezes over.


References

Wikipedia: The Female Eunuch
The Female Eunuch is a 1970 book by Germaine Greer that became an international bestseller and an important text in the feminist movement.

Wikipedia: The S Word
Slut or slattern is a term applied to an individual who is considered to have loose sexual morals or who is sexually promiscuous. The term is generally pejorative and most often applied to women as an insult or offensive term of disparagement, meaning "dirty or slovenly."

Wikipedia: Shere Hite
Shere Hite (born November 2, 1942) is an American-born German sex educator and feminist. Her sexological work has focused primarily on female sexuality. Hite builds upon biological studies of sex by Masters and Johnson and by Alfred Kinsey.

Wikipedia: The Montreal Massacre
The École Polytechnique Massacre, also known as the Montreal Massacre, occurred on December 6, 1989 at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Twenty-five-year-old Marc Lépine, armed with a legally obtained Mini-14 rifle and a hunting knife, shot twenty-eight people before killing himself.

Wikipedia: Robert Pickton
Robert William "Willie" Pickton (born October 24, 1949)[2] of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada is a former pig farmer and serial killer convicted of the second-degree murders of six women. He is also charged in the deaths of an additional twenty women, many of them prostitutes and drug users from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. In December 2007 he was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years —the longest sentence available under Canadian law for murder.

my blog: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani: an adulterer all by herself
In this morning's paper was a small article about a woman in Iran who was convicted of adultery with 2 men and condemned to death by stoning. In reading this, a couple of things came to mind: the brutality of this form of execution and is adultery a crime worthy of death? However, there was one small point of which the article made no mention and which piqued my curiosity. This woman has been condemned to be executed for adultery; what about the men? It takes two to tango; this woman can't become an adulterer all by herself.

my blog: Abortion: If we make it illegal, the problem will go away
I watched a news item on television last night which stated that every year 25,000 women die from unsafe abortions in Africa and 1.7 million are injured. Due to the restrictive laws governing abortions in almost all African countries, virtually all of the 5.6 million abortions performed annually in Africa are unsafe. Apparently only about 100,000 of them are performed by trained professionals in a safe environment. The news item went on the cover various religious groups in these African countries who are lobbying to keep abortions illegal and one minister who was interviewed proudly said that he has having a big impact in maintaining laws which make abortions illegal.

my blog: Rush Limbaugh: That's spelled with one F and one U - Mar 14/2012
Recently, the world has been atwitter on Twitter and other social media commenting left, right and centre about one Rush Hudson Limbaugh. Of course, it is easy to pile on by calling him an anal orifice or a Neanderthal or a meany... (I consult my notes) oops, that's a f**kin' meany... however I can't help feeling there is more, much more not just to this particular story, but to what the story represents. This is the tip of the iceberg. But first, let's recap what happened with the help of Wikipedia.


2010-07-13

Site Map - William Quincy BelleFollow me on Twitter

Monday, 12 July 2010

Scientology: Tom makes good movies

Scientology, Tom Cruise, Oprah, South Park. This dates back a few years but a reference on a recent blog made me think of my own run-ins with Ron. This is not an exhaustive description or analysis of this so-called religion but merely my personal experiences.

1969: Prelude
In my late teens, around 1969, I ran into a number of people who seemed to be caught up in the hippie age of self-discovery, new age movements, etc. These people were exploring various spiritual options which for lack of a better word were not mainstream. Some of these people were a tad extreme in their quest for spiritual fulfillment and it made me wonder what was missing in their lives that they seemed to be so hell bent on finding.

My girlfriend at the time liked to drag me out to various groups. I accompanied her to various mainstream churches and even an evangelical church where the service was punctuated with people standing up and yelling out "Praise the lord!" We visited the local Bahá'í group who turned out to be very nice people: I remember our informal discussions usually had Seals & Croft playing in the background, a popular musical group who were also Bahá'í. At the time, I didn't understand just what my girlfriend was looking for but I went along because... well, she was my girlfriend. Now, I realise that something was missing in her life: her father had died when she was young; she married at the age of 16; she had a child, got divorced at 18 and had to give up her child to her husband. That's a lot of upset to deal with before the age of 20.

Oddly enough, I remember one boy who became such a fervent follower of the Bahá'í movement that he attempted to convert his family. It got so bad at home that his own family finally had to kick him out. It didn't stop there, though. The regional council of the church actually took him to task for being too persistent in his proselytising as he was giving the church a bad name. Aside: I know the church; I know the religion and even though I'm not a believer, I found these people to be very nice, not some nefarious cult.

Framework
As I watched all this with both bemusement and amusement, I began to see that for some people the need for a spiritual framework in their lives was of the utmost importance. I realized that each one of us has "something", whether it is our church, our family or our job which provides us with a place to hang our hat so to speak. It was our base, our bedrock upon which we built our lives and gave us the stability we needed to weather the storm, to live our lives. I grew up in a solid home with parents who loved one another and never divorced. The boy I mention above came from a family whose parents divorced and whose father eventually committed suicide.

I theorized that I could create a religion. If I provided a structure, rules, guidelines, etc., I could give to people this all important framework they needed. It could provide the foundation upon which they could build their lives and allow them to get along in life. I also conjectured that such followers could be devoted, could be a little gullible and could be a source of revenue. Of course, this was just a theory I came up with while idly cogitating on my experiences and I never acted upon such a possible plan.

1974: Boston
The 70's were my musical decade: sex, drugs and rock and roll. Nothing major, believe me; just an aberrant part of my past in an otherwise average life.

In 1974, I had an opportunity to spend some time at the Berklee College of Music located in Boston, Massachusetts. At this particular point in history, Chick Corea, the jazz pianist was riding a wave of popularity because of his group Return to Forever, a fusion of jazz and rock. Everybody at the school talked about Chick and a television special just about closed down the entire school as everybody in the place stopped to crowd around the nearest available TV set.

Chick Corea was a scientologist and this was very much a question at the school. I had no idea what Scientology was but there was a church of Scientology just down the street and several students at the school claimed to be involved with it including one of my 2 roommates.

Mike, my roommate took the time to explain to me about L. Ron Hubbard, the movement and the church and even got me a copy of the book Dianetics. He took me through the ideas of auditing, the e-meter and becoming clear and went on to explain that he had so far spent $8,000 US in taking various courses in Scientology.

Wow. $8,000. This was 1974. That's a lot of money. It is even more money when I think that Mike was only in his early twenties was a student and didn't really have that kind of money to be throwing around. After all, Berklee was an expensive school.

I read some of the literature; I skimmed through some of Dianetics when all of a sudden it hit me: L. Ron Hubbard had done what I had jokingly theorized about. He had created his own religion. The more I looked at scientology itself, the more I discovered about the man, the more I understood what he had previously done, the more I understood that he made up his own church. In fact, as I later discovered, he admitted this to people.

Further discussions with this Mike underlined what I had run across in 1969. Mike was looking for this framework, this spiritual structure to his life and just by utter coincidence, he had run into Scientology. In looking back on these discussions, I have to chuckle. I have to chuckle in the same way I've chuckled over the years when I run into somebody who seems to know "the truth". There was Mike talking to me with a great deal of conviction about this Scientology. Had he read the Bible? No. Was he familiar with the Book of Mormon? No. Had he ever looked at the Jewish faith or the Muslim faith or Hinduism or the Bahá'í's? No. Had Mike ever read "Discourse on the Method" by René Descartes in which he formulated his famous saying, "I think there I am"? No. Did he know that "God is dead" as per Nietzsche's "Also Sprach Zarathustra"? No.

Poor Mike
I'm sorry, Mike. You know the "truth"? You have fallen into the trap I had seen many people fall into: the first thing you ever bother to look at becomes your answer. You don't continue looking, you don't continue any research, and you just accept the very first thing you find as being your big discovery of the truth. How narrow minded, how convenient, how simplistic. I'm not saying I'm some big scholar, I'm not saying I know the "truth" any more than the next guy but I am saying that people who stumble onto something as Mike did as others I know in my life did, does not constitute for me justifiable grounds for anybody to be telling me they have discovered the "truth".

But here's the odd issue that goes along with Mike's conversion to Scientology; did L. Ron Hubbard know this and did it deliberately or was this just dumb luck? Mike had shelled out $8,000 to get where he was and was going to have to spend so much more to arrive at what is labelled "clear". Thinking of the psychological condition of cognitive dissonance, the inability of holding onto two conflicting believes at the same time, Mike would never be able to admit to himself that Scientology was wrong because to do so would require him to come to understand that all the money he had spent was wasted, that he had been duped. Nobody likes being duped so who's going to admit that Scientology may be wrong?

I found out later that apparently Hubbard had deliberately set up a fee structure for his courses because he knew that people do not value something if it's free. Charge for it and you give the impression that what you're offering is valuable.

Xenu
In a nutshell, Scientologists believe that 75 million years ago a galactic warlord brought billions of his people to planet Earth in DC-8 like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes then killed them using hydrogen bombs. The "spirits" of these beings, thetans, float around and attach themselves to us causing harm. The auditing process attempts to remove thetans from us so we become "clear" or psychologically sound.

When I first found out about this, I admittedly rolled my eyes. In thinking about it though, can I say this is any wilder than the various things I've heard connected to religion? Nevertheless, Ron was a science fiction writer and when I look at this, I merely see science fiction. He made this all up. It isn't true; this isn't factual. Right now I'm chuckling because I'm sure somebody in reading this would say that I can't prove that Xenu is false; belief involves a leap of faith. Let me add that this "leap of faith" seems to cost over $100,000 US and I return to the idea of cognitive dissonance. After shelling out a hundred grand, what do you think the chances are that you are going to wake up one day and say to yourself, "I've been duped"?

My Own Religion
Hats off to Ron. He did what I theorized about; it is possible to make your own religion. He knew what I had experienced myself: people need a spiritual framework for their lives. Give them structure; give them rules; give them guidance and they will follow you. I'm sure Tom is a nice guy; he makes entertaining movies but I'm guessing he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I'm sure he's never read Descartes; he knows nothing about Nietzsche and his familiarity with the major religious teachings of the world is very limited. Like Mike, Tom was looking for something and by sheer coincidence, runs across Scientology. He could have run across anything. After all, Prince (the musician) became one of Jehovah's Witnesses in 2001 at the age of 43.

In the end
John Lennon wrote "Whatever gets you through the night" and the lyrics continue with "It's alright; it's alright." We all need something: some structure, some framework, and some spiritual foundation upon which we can build our own personal faith system. That may be a religion; that may be agnosticism; that may be atheism. However, we also have to admit that sometimes mixed up in a belief system may be something that one considers bad. Scientology costs a lot of money and Jehovah's Witnesses do not accept in blood transfusions but let's not forget that even mainstream faiths are not without fault. How many people have been killed in the name of God?

I have recounted my own experiences with Ron and in so doing; I have tried to be fair. Let me add, however, in case it's not obvious, just where I stand myself: I found the South Park episode on Scientology to be hilarious.

Warning
Scientology has a dark side and this dark side certainly gives credence to the idea that it is a cult. The organization has been ruthless with its detractors; employing a battery of lawyers to sue the pants off of anybody who says anything negative about it. Anyone who leaves the church warrants "disconnection", a supposedly nonexistent policy whereby other members shun the person which may break up friends, spouses and even parents and children. There are several well documented cases where the church has employed illegal means to further its causes and been prosecuted for it such as Operation Snow White. While the Southpark episode about Scientology may have been funny, the dark side of the church is anything but.


References

Wikipedia: Scientology
Scientology is a body of beliefs and related practices created by L. Ron Hubbard (1911–1986), starting in 1952, as a successor to his earlier self-help system, Dianetics. Hubbard characterized Scientology as a religion, and in 1953 incorporated the Church of Scientology in Camden, New Jersey.

Wikipedia: Xenu
Xenu, also spelled Xemu, was, according to the founder of Scientology L. Ron Hubbard, the dictator of the "Galactic Confederacy" who, 75 million years ago, brought billions of his people to Earth in a DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs. Official Scientology scriptures hold that the essences of these many people remained, and that they form around people in modern times, causing them spiritual harm.

Wired: Wikipedia Bans Church of Scientology - May 2009
Wikipedia has banned the Church of Scientology from editing any articles. It’s a punishment for repeated and deceptive editing of articles related to the controversial religion. The landmark ruling comes from the inner circle of a site that prides itself on being open and inclusive.

South Park: Trapped in the Closet: Episode 912 (Original Air Date: Nov 16, 2005)
Scientologists converge on Stan's house after he is identified as the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard. One A-lister locks himself in the closet and refuses to come out, after Stan criticizes his "talent."

Wikipedia: Scientology: Membership statistics
Church of Scientology: World=8 million; U.S.=25,000 (2008); Canada=1,525 (2001)

Wikipedia: Disconnection
Disconnection, when used in Scientology, is a term used to describe the severance of all ties between a Scientologist and a friend, colleague, or family member deemed to be antagonistic towards Scientology. The practice of disconnection is a form of shunning. Among Scientologists, disconnection is viewed as an important method of removing obstacles to one's spiritual growth. In some circumstances disconnection has ended marriages and separated children from their parents. The Church of Scientology has repeatedly denied that such a policy exists, though as of May 2011 its website acknowledges the practice and describes it as a human right. In the United States, the Church has tried to argue in court that disconnection is a constitutionally protected religious practice. However, this argument was rejected because the pressure put on individual Scientologists to disconnect means it is not voluntary.

Wikipedia: Operation Snow White
Operation Snow White was the Church of Scientology's name for a conspiracy during the 1970s to purge unfavorable records about Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard. This project included a series of infiltrations and thefts from 136 government agencies, foreign embassies and consulates, as well as private organizations critical of Scientology, carried out by Church members, in more than 30 countries; the single largest infiltration of the United States government in history[2] with up to 5,000 covert agents.


2010-07-12

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Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani: an adulterer all by herself


Monday, July 12, 2010

In this morning's paper was a small article about a woman in Iran who was convicted of adultery with 2 men and condemned to death by stoning. In reading this, a couple of things came to mind: the brutality of this form of execution and is adultery a crime worthy of death? However, there was one small point of which the article made no mention and which piqued my curiosity. This woman has been condemned to be executed for adultery; what about the men? It takes two to tango; this woman can't become an adulterer all by herself.

Apparently, this woman was first convicted of an illicit relationship with 2 men that took place after the death of her husband. For this, she received 99 lashes. Her case came up again when another court was prosecuting one of the 2 men for his involvement in the death of the woman's husband. The woman was acquitted of involvement in the death of her husband but was subsequently convicted of adultery while still married.

I have consulted at least a half a dozen news sources but no where do I find any mention of the men. The woman is condemned to die for adultery but not the men. Yes, the one man was on trial for the murder of the husband but neither of the men was on trial for adultery.

Right now, this woman's fate is up in the air. She has spent the past 6 years in jail while international pressure against her stoning has been growing. This issue is proving to be something of an embarrassment for the government considering the outcry against her execution and officials are holding off doing anything which in itself translates into bowing to this criticism. Nevertheless, there still is the risk Iran may thumb its nose at the world and carry out the sentence even if stoning is not the method of execution.

I must return to this one small point: the men are not in trouble for their participation in the adultery.



References

Wikipedia: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakineh_Mohammadi_Ashtiani

Wikipedia: Stoning
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoning

Facebook: Save Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Sakineh-Mohammadi-Ashtiani-from-being-Stoned-to-Death-in-Iran/123908540984923

Google Search: " Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani"
http://www.google.ca/#num=100&hl=en&safe=off&q=%22sakineh+mohammadi+ashtiani%22&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&fp=ff6f35003432d731

2010-07-12

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Spit Take: Here? In Canada?

Thursday, July 8, 2010: I pick up this morning's National Post and read the front page article about the OPP being set to charge a Muslim extremist.

Over the past three years, Salman Hossain has openly called for terrorist attacks in Canada, cheered the killing of Canadian troops in Afghanistan and urged fellow Muslims to "exterminate" Canada's Jewish population.

What? This is Canada. We don't do such things; we don't say such things; we don't even think such things. What the hey?

I've never heard of this guy so I sit down at my computer and do a search on the name. I find all sorts of entries from media outlets but I also turn up entries written by this gentleman himself. He apparently has a web site, which according to one source was taken down, but I discover it's up.

Spit Take

The home page comes up on the screen of my computer and... I very nearly spit my coffee out across my desk. Holy c**p!!! Gee-sus H. K. Ryest! Over the line? This guy has gone over the line, drawn a new line then gone over that!

Can't we just all get along?

I grew up in a non racist, non sexist environment. Intellectually, I understand that some people hate other people but emotionally, I just don't get it. When somebody expresses anger, frustration, whatever against somebody based on race, colour or sex, I quite honestly draw a blank. I look at the target of their hate and shake my head. What the heck is the big deal?

A friend is the principal of a public school in an area where the students come from all over the world, from all sorts of backgrounds. The school board publishes a school calendar on which is noted every religious holiday and celebration for everybody: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddha, Bahá'í, etc. and all students are always made aware of everybody else's observances. In fact, ofttimes the entire school celebrates various festivals so that everybody is observing Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali or Ramadan. This friend always gives me a copy of the calendar and I take it to work to share it with my colleagues amongst whom I find Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu.

Folks, this is Canada. We are multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious. We do not have room for Salman Hossain any more than we had room for Enrst Zundel. If we stop talking to one another; if we slip into differentiating ourselves based on race, colour, sex or religion, all is lost, anarchy will prevail; we will not have any peace.

I am Canadian. I am proud of my country. I am outraged that another Canadian is dragging all of us through the mud, defaming our name and ruining our collective reputation. This isn't freedom of speech, this is bullshit.


Reference

National Post: OPP set to charge Muslim extremist
http://www.nationalpost.com/charge+Muslim+extremist/3248369/story.html

Google search: "Salman Hossain"
http://www.google.ca/#hl=en&source=hp&q=%22Salman+Hossain%22&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&fp=12d854179172b838

Ernst Zundel
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Z%C3%BCndel

2010-07-08

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Possession is nine-tenths of the lawlessness


Years ago, I was walking down a street in Toronto behind two 20 year olds guys who were both drinking cups of coffee in Styrofoam cups. At some point, they finished their coffee and nonchalantly tossed the cups onto the front lawn of somebody's house. I was very miffed at this gesture and I picked up both cups, walked quickly up to the two guys, stopped them and politely explained that I didn't think it was much trouble to hold onto the cups until they saw a trash can. "After all," as I went on to explain, "This is our city." I walked off carrying the cups expecting to hear some derogatory comment, a nasty chuckle or even a profanity but there was only silence behind me.

I've never forgotten this incident and have ofttimes thought of it in terms of whether I would be risking a more negative reaction even a physical response like a punch in the nose if I did this today. At the time and still today, I remain slightly mystified and flabbergasted at how much we collectively seem to follow the principle of "out of sight, out of mind". The sooner we can get rid of something we don't want, the better. There is a total disconnect between our desire to "make it go away" and what happens afterwards to whatever we're trying to get rid of.

However, the key piece of the above is the question of possession, of property. Would the two gentlemen mentioned above have thrown their cups on their own lawn? I'm sure any of us would say, "Of course not." Why? Who wants to have litter on their own lawn? It's unsightly. But the lawn of this anonymous person wasn't theirs; they had no feeling of possession. Who cares? Just get rid of the cups. This is where I make my little joke by turning the saying around: possession or lack thereof is nine-tenths of the lawlessness. You don't own the property; you don't care; you litter.


The Broken Window Theory


The name of this theory comes from an article published in the March 1982 edition of the magazine The Atlantic Monthly. The authors presented a scenario of a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, vandals will break more windows and inevitably, they may even break into the building. The authors also spoke of how litter generates more litter: people demonstrate a greater tendency to litter in areas where there is already litter than in areas which are clean.

In a nutshell, BTW says that litter leads to litter, disorder leads to crime. True? False? Certain studies have proven it to be true; certain studies question the validity of the statistics while even other studies have pointed out that other factors such as culture and economic status come into play. Nevertheless, there does seem to be obviousness to the idea and so much so, BTW has been employed by numerous people, municipalities, organizations, etc. as the golden rule of their governance. If we keep things clean, there is a greater chance that people when left to their own devices will also keep things clean.


Nobody cares

This seems to be the idea to try and impart to people: please care. I would guess; I would hope that most people would want to have a decent, clean home. Can the idea of "my" home be extended? This is "my" street? This is "my" town?

My wife and I were visiting one of our daughters and I offered to take the dogs out for a walk. I went over to the local park and while wandering around, I discovered several points where people had just throw stuff on the ground, stuff like the wrappers and bag of a fast food meal. I then found a plastic grocery bag so while the dogs sniffed around; I set about picking up all this loose garbage. Part of me doing this may have been some sort of civic altruism, but there was also my hope of removing the temptation of left-over food from the dogs. While I only spent a couple of minutes doing this trash pick-up, I did manage to make what I thought to be a noticeable difference.

When I think of the people who ate these fast food meals, just how big of an effort would have been necessary to take their garbage over to the trash can? Why didn't they? Out of sight, out of mind? Or who cares, it's not my park? Whatever the case, this goes on everywhere and I'm certain that if I stopped anybody to ask them why they were leaving their garbage around, they would tell me that it's no big deal, somebody will pick it up. Really? Does your mommy work for the city?


Nine-tenths


My wife and I live in downtown Toronto. We were out for a walk the other night and we came up behind somebody smoking a cigarette. As we approached the corner to cross the street, the person stopped, looked both ways to check traffic, then before stepping onto the street to cross, they flicked their half smoked cigarette onto the sidewalk. They didn't even step on it to extinguish it. As I walked holding my wife's hand, I had to roll my eyes.

During the G20 summit, we watched CP24's coverage while we watched from our balcony what was going on in the streets. We actually went out onto the streets and watched and heard people chanting, "Whose streets? Our streets!" We saw windows being smashed, police cars being burned and at one point, saw somebody throw something at the mounted police and knock a policeman off his horse. An extreme example, I grant you but would anybody do that on their own street?

Toronto is "my" city. Downtown is "my" neighbourhood. This is "my" street. I'm worried about how you're going to behave if I ever let you in my house.


References

Broken Window Theory
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixing_Broken_Windows

Experimental evidence for the Broken Window Theory
http://www.cognitionandculture.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=366

Disparity and Diversity in the Contemporary City: Social (Dis)Order Revisited
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2864585/

2010-07-06