Blog of Mass Distraction

Sunday, August 29, 2004

I have few friends that I would consider avid readers. I'm not sure I could consider myself an avid reader. While I, and my dad and my brother, are news freaks, reading the news doesn't give you the same experience as reading an interesting book.
I definitely used to be an avid reader. In my younger years I would read a lot of books, and I had a penchant for reading big, thick, or difficult books. This gave me a somewhat limited exposure, but I did get the chance to read some classics and interesting non-fiction.
Recently I've picked up my old habit and have tried to become an avid reader once again. And I certainly have more than enough material to satisfy me (especially since I no longer have my childish limitation). There's so much material that I have generally found myself in the middle of 3 or 4 books at a time. I'm certainly not a speed reader or anything, I usually pick up one book, start reading it and when another catches my attention (and I happen to get access to a copy) I'll start reading it as well. I wouldn't really mind this except a couple of the books I read tend to be harder to put down for a while and pick up again easily after reading something else.
In spite of this I've certainly enjoyed many of the books I've read in the past couple of years. And because I've enjoyed them so much, I've tried to get others in my family and among my friends to read them as well. I'm usually not very successful.
And yet, with the rampant (and, in my opinion, disgraceful) success of reality television, I think if people just gave books a chance they'd enjoy them a great deal. Many people lack focus or direction and use television, among other things, as a means of escaping reality. A good novel is far more successful at drawing you into an alternate existence than any reality tv or sitcom could ever be. Furthermore, you can actually draw some useful benefit from reading, stimulating your mind rather than rotting it with mindless entertainment.
I've just started another book, some not-so-contemporary fiction (late '80s) and I realized I was in the middle of another book which I've mislaid somewhere at home. The other book was also very interesting, non-fiction and very contemporary. My favourite books, however, have always been those that craft a detailed and enthralling world that draws you in as you watch the characters and story develop. My favourite fiction story is the Lord of the Rings, and while that's been true most of my life, I may yet find a story that builds a world I will enjoy visiting more. I have read Asimov's Empire and Robot stories, and while very captivating, I definitely like Tolkien's tale better. But I'll see how I like the book I'm reading now; it, like others I've read recently, is very philosophical. And that's something I find gives great meaning and ultimately great satisfaction to a story.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Ah the many annoyances of everyday life. When driving there are only a couple of radio stations that I'll listen to, like CBC (our national media organization). Because I like classical music I listen to CBC radio 2, but I also listen to another classical station in the city. The other station, like most radio stations, is supported by ads and sponsors; but this station's ads happen to be directed at rich, old people (whom they say is their main audience). I find regular advertisments annoying enough, but I find these ads unbearable.
In the car, I can always stick in one of my CDs when the ads get too annoying. Some tv commercials though, also drive me nuts. I'm not sure what the hell these advertising people are thinking when they dream up this garbage but someone deserves a beating for some of the things they produce. I keep seeing this commercial for Subway which, at one time, I wouldn't mind eating from (not anymore since I'm a vegetarian now and paying a few bucks for bread and lettuce seems pretty stupid). This commercial is so utterly stupid, I can't believe they put it on the air. Its got a bunch of losers counting and talking about how they like to be outside and be healthy. It's even got this one woman skipping rope, only she's skipping in a kitchen... a KITCHEN! Doesn't that seem a little silly or dangerous to you? Their other commercials have people that work at Subway talk about the kind of food they can prepare for you. Two kids telling you about their delicious and healthy (pick one...) foods, and then they say their name and their titles, which are "sandwich artist" and "wrap artist". Now I'll be the first to admit that cooking can be a creative outlet and a form of artistic expression... but for God's sake. These kids work for a fast food restaurant. If a sub sandwich is a work of art, then the boundaries on artistic expression are getting way too lax.

Another interesting little episode happened with my family. My brother always carries the remote control around with him when he's watching tv. If he leaves the room for some reason, he'll still be clutching the remote in his hand. Because of this the remote was misplaced a couple of days ago. Now our nice tv also happened to have the volume buttons messed up on it (don't ask me how it happened, I was out of the country at the time). We managed to fix one of the buttons, the one to increase volume. So naturally, given this course of events, we can only watch shows with the volume deafeningly loud. The din was so awful from my dad watching BBC, I could hear it a couple of floors and a few closed doors away with surprising clarity. At least it will cut down on our tv watching until the remote is found...

Thursday, August 19, 2004

I saw an interesting op-ed piece in the paper the other day by Gwynne Dyer. While only mentioned in passing, the democratic opposition to mass privatization comment was very interesting.
This is something that very key in defining a friendly democracy.
And there's a long history of examples to show this. Some recent ones would include US support for Suharto in Indonesia. The Clinton government couldn't have cared less about his massacring and slaughter, because he let US business interests come first and he bought lots of US weapons. The Clinton administration even held off the UN Security Council while the slaughter continued in East Timor.
It was similar in Serbia during the Kosova invasion. The US screamed bloody murder when the Serbs cracked down on the KLA. Consider though, that the KLA was actually conducting acts of terrorism (with US support no less); granted this is not a justification for abusing the Kosovars but it is an explanation (poor though it be). Consider also that the Serb crackdown on Kosovars was nothing compared to what was happening in Turkey: the slaughter and abuse of the Kurds, also with US support. On top of what was already mentioned in Indonesia, and all the other perpetual violations and atrocities that the US supports, the Serbs were light-weights.
In fact the massive loss of Kosovars did not occur until after the US bombing began. This was predicted and yet didn't stop NATO. Anyhow, the US invaded and subsequently helped Zoran Djindjic come to power and politically eliminate Vojislav Kostunica (who became impotent at the time because of reforms pushed through by Djindjic); and then came the payoff. Djindjic allowed US businesses into Serbia (which was hands-off during Milosovic's time). In so doing he also hurt the Serbian economy and many Serbs lost their jobs, but the US was happy. Now that Djindjic is dead, there had been trouble electing a new leader since a certain percentage of voter turnout was required and repeatedly missed. Currently Vojislav Kostunica (former President) is Prime Minister and Boris Tadic is President. I'm not sure how much power Tadic has as President, it's an elected role but it seems the Prime Minister is the main man in government. Furthermore, the two men seem to be rivals and Tadic's party is not part of the ruling coalition...
Finally, in Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taleban, the US put Hamid Karzai in place. That seemed like a pretty blatant or brash move since Karzai was formerly the liaison between the Taleban and Californian oil giant Unocal on the pipeline deal that fell through in '98. Anyway, he became leader and the pipeline deal went through. Now the estimated $3 billion pipeline is underway, even though there isn't the money or resources available to subdue the warlords that are rampaging across the countryside.
In the end, when these countries are "helped" and democratized, the end goal is opportunity for profit. When money is sent as aid for rebuilding, it goes straight back to the US and into the corporate coffers. It's a sick and twisted kind of corporate welfare with American taxpayers footing the bill.

On a much lighter note, I recently saw a piece about the new Mercedes CL65. While it doesn't look too different from other Merc coupes, this is in fact (for the time being) the most powerful (publicly available) car in the world. The V12 engine can generate over 600 horsepower; this thing is sick! Of course that's very bad and you should buy a reasonable and fuel efficient car that's good for the environment... ahem... yeah.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The US House of Representatives passed a bill preventing UN observers from overseeing the presidential elections. There will be some international observers though. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will be watching the elections and publishing a report about them after they happen in November. They also observed the 2002 congressional elections and said that many of the problems from the 200 presidential elections had been fixed. I'm not sure how much help this will be to those in Florida, or in other states which are considering using unaccountable electronic voting machines.

I also have heard Bill Clinton speak a couple of times recently. He's been criticizing president G.W. Bush for dirty and deceitful campaign tactics. He said he believed people use those tactics because they work and when they are used, you should respond in kind. He's also repeatedly mentioned a few similarities between himself and the current president and vice-president. When he was at the Democratic convention, he talked about the bills that Bush has passed to help those in the top 1% of the economy, and mentioned that he just happens to be part of that group. He also mentioned that Bush shouldn't be using underhanded tactics to criticize John Kerry's military record since Bush didn't go to Vietnam. There have been some ads attacking Kerry's vietnam record with a bunch of veterans claiming to have server with Kerry ("with" meaning fought in Vietnam at the same time as Kerry). While the obvious deceit is kind of funny, it's still just awful that this is such a matter of pride and honour for these people. The one that hardly gets mentioned, and possibly the only decent thing Kerry may have done, is that he protested against the Vietnam war after he came back from fighting in it. The terror and murder of millions of people in South East Asia is seen as a thing of great pride in the American mindset. Anyhow, Clinton was saying that Bush shouldn't criticize Kerry because Bush, like Cheney and Clinton himself, didn't go and fight in Vietnam.
There are a lot of other similarities between Bush and Clinton, such as bombing Afghanistan and Iraq, going to war without UN approval, and so on. But Clinton, because of his subtle approach and genial nature, is seen much more favourably than Bush is. Of course Bush is also seen as kind of a moron...
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
George W. Bush. August 6th 2004.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Chasing the tails of the Democratic Convention in Boston, Tom Ridge and the Bush administration have released news of an imminent terror attack on financial industry locations in the US. They claimed that the release is not politically motivated (yeah right), but it just so happens that the intelligence for this release happens to be 4 years old. It was from before Sept. 11 2001. So why the hell is it being released now? Each pointless vague terror alert generates a bunch of media attention and, while it's been said that advertising America's insecurity is unfavourable for the Bush administration, it's probably less harmful for Bush to release a terror alert than let any good press go the way of the competition.
I would say it's better than letting any real discussion of issues get in the way, but that just doesn't happen in big American media. In fact, Florida governor Jeb Bush has said his state will be using electronic voting machines and he won't allow any observation, questioning or manual recounts of the voting in November. This little tidbit hasn't been touched by the mainstream media in the US. Jeb Bush is effectively stating that there will be a recurrence of the massive fraud that occured during the 2000 elections and he won't allow anyone to question it.
The nonsensical American democratic process has gone so far that a few democrats, and some outsiders, have suggested that the elections be carried out under the supervision of UN observers. While the suggestion has been dismissed by republicans and many others, the situation there probably qualifies for those kinds of measures.

There's also been a fair bit about HIV/AIDS in the news recently. Infection rates continue to rise (though apparently not as sharply as they have been in the past). Anyone who thinks illness is some kind of punishment or something that is deserved by the people infected obviously have never met the millions of AIDS children in southern Africa. They're just like any other kids and I've met them, played with them, and been annoyed by them (hey I love kids, but they can be annoying when they want to be). The only difference is you know these kids won't live to see adulthood through no fault of their own.
The tragedy of AIDS is hard to understand and even harder to stop. While it is a very preventable disease, simple education about the causes of infection hasn't been enough to deter the pandemic. It hits most heavily in poor, densely populated countries, like those in sub-Saharan Africa, and increasingly in India and China. While the numbers are relatively low in North America, they're increasing and will continue to do so because the people here don't have any better sexual practices than the people in those other countries. Other STDs are very common here, but AIDS has yet to catch up. Unless people start changing their risk behaviours, the virus will get its chance in North America as well.