Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Out like a Lamb
(the title has nothing to do with this blog, but it's an appropriate way to end the month)

This blog has taken on a bit more of a political bent than usual in recent weeks, as I have written about racial stereotyping, sex education, black market organ trafficking, and the oil crisis. It's been suggested that blogs are the new political medium. Indeed, with these things popping up everywhere, it's not quite hard to get the message out.

But, when you consider how many messages there are to choose from, it gets a little more difficult. There are several blog provider services outside of this one, and the subject matter is scattershot in each one. The large majority of them are personal (talk about friends, family, and local going-ons), while an unhealthy portion of them are dedicated to advertising (just click on the Next Blog icon a few times and you'll find ads for cell phone ring tones, payday loans, and refinancing your home).

Given my number of hits, I can't see this blog changing the world any time soon, but if I can open the eyes of the one person who passes it onto the next...

Although I might need a little more T&A in this blog for that to happen.

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Deck Chair Arrangement on the Titanic

For a creative writing class, I created an 8-page short story on the parallels between driving and intimately getting in touch with people’s characters. I entitled it Truth Serum At 89.9 Cents Per Litre. As you might be aware, the title is now out of date. Time sensitivity is something that writers of fiction must be aware of, as to avoid dating their material. But, what you may not be aware of is the fact the story was written less than two months ago. Even worse is the fact that the price of gasoline was actually less than 89.9 cents a litre when the story was written.

Gas prices have seen a huge spike in recent weeks and motorists are getting their collective underwear in a twist over this. For some, it is a simple matter of abandoning the gas-guzzling SUV in exchange for a bus pass. However, in a metropolitan area where public transit is extremely lacking, this is problematic, especially if your job happens to take you everywhere. However, that’s just the beginning.

A quick glance around you will reveal the byproducts of a society heavily reliant on fossil fuels. The medium from which you are reading this (most likely a computer screen) has been made with energy from fossil fuels. The clothing you are wearing required energy to manufacture and transfer, and if it has any form of plastic in it (eg: the plastic buttons or the polyester fibers), then it was derived from petroleum based products. What you ate for breakfast was probably grown with the use of factory farming, which requires energy derived from fossil fuels to create. The insulation, wiring, and casing from your DVD player, MP3 player, computer, cell phone, and car are all derived from petroleum products. There’s also a good chance that you aren’t reading this by candlelight or sunlight. Therefore, more fossil fuels were involved. And then there’s our healthcare. Medication requires energy to manufacture and transport, hospitals require energy to run, and machines require energy to keep people alive.

Now, imagine if all of those things were taken away.

The thoughts of civilization set back about 200 years is a frightening one, as suddenly a lot of the things that we have become used to will become a thing of the past. While current research on alternative energy sources shows much promise, many of them require a boat-load of energy to produce, and none of these can be used to create plastic based products.

While no one has publicly gone out and admitted it, we are on the brink of an oil crisis, if we aren’t already. Many indicators are already in place, and this is not limited to declining oil production and rising gas prices. The general public seems to be generally unaware, as they blissfully drive their SUVs through suburbia and contemplate what they’ll buy on their next trip to the mall.

Sadly, no one bothered to realize that this would be inevitable at some point in time, so the safeguards to prevent any sort of societal collapse were not put into place. So, the theorists predict that we can expect to see more wars over energy based resources in order to hold out for an unsustainable rate of consumption. Following economic and societal collapse, we can see severe civil unrest, America becoming a society similar to modern day Iraq, severe food shortages, and a severe drop in population.

I'm curious as to what legacy we'll leave for the next civilization.

Things like this should be shaking alarm bells, but for various reasons, it’s not happening. Why is this? Is it because “they” know the collapse is imminent and blissful ignorance is the only thing that’s keeping people from rioting in the streets?

As it is, the only ones who would be unaffected by this are those completely detached from society, living in the bush and living off the land. I haven’t quite decided if I’m ready to start living like the Amish yet. And that's provided that the global wars over oil don't annihilate us all.

Additional resource:
Peak Oil: Life After the Oil Crash: A highly detailed description of the scenario at hand. Be prepared to not sleep after reading this.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Spare Parts from Parts Unknown

Today, I was walking around Downtown Vancouver where I was stopped by CBC video news crew capturing word-on-the-street opinions on a recent court case in which a man requiring an organ transplant obtained (or attempted to obtain) a donated organ from a foreign country, but was denied permission. I was asked if that should be permitted.

My response was words to the effect of, "If the organ is needed, it shouldn't matter where it comes from, just as long as nothing unethical was done in order to obtain it."

Of course, it's only after I get about half a block away from the camera crew that I remember that foreign organ donation is a bit of a sketchy issue in some impoverished nations where individuals are selling their internal organs for money.

This is where ethics is no longer viewed as black and white. The practice itself is a fairly disturbing one for the medical ethical community, as it reduces human essence to a commodity with a dollar value attached. This gets even more disturbing when people are essentially coerced into donating their organs, sometimes with them disappearing completely, fueling speculation that they took more than just a kidney.

Many of the people who are going through the process are doing it out of desparation, as black market prices for a kidney are reportedly going up to $100,000 USD. Some do it to feed their families, some do it to pay for safe passage out of their countries. While it is clearly unethical to allow a family to starve, subjecting oneself to a medically unnecessary procedure for profit may not be.

Much of this evokes images from Larry Niven's The Jigsaw Man, a sci-fi short which deals with the technology to reduce the human body into parts for donation, a process which lead to the conied term, "organlegging." According to the story, this practice is typically reserved for convicted killers, although through the progression of the story, it gets used for progressively lesser crimes, until a character goes through the process for running a red light.

This may be closer to reality than we realize, as Chinese prisons have been said to be sources of harvest organs. It is widely known that the Chinese prison system executes the some of the most inmates internationally (often sending the bill for the $0.20 bullet to the family of the executed) and their human rights abuses are well known. However, no one will come out and say it.

I still stand by my statement of allowing organ transplants regardless of point of origin...just as long as it was not obtained through unethical means.

Additional links:

Organ Shortage Fuels Illicit Trade in Human Parts: Article from National Geographic
Black market kidney trade sparks ethical debate: Article from

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Monday, March 21, 2005

The poem:

"I am..." (excerpt)

I am nondescript
I go into a store where my friend works
I ask the guy behind the counter if he’s working today.
The guy behind the counter goes to the back to see if he’s there.
“Who is it?” my friend asks. “I don’t know,” the guy responds, “Some white guy.”
The prize

Having entered the President's Writing Contest on Diversity hosted by Douglas College, they decided to publish my entry in the 32-page anthology. Apart from the honour and prestige of being published in an obscure literature anthology, I am the proud owner of five copies of "Diversity 2005" and a Douglas College coffee mug (which was empty...d'oh!). Also, to help out with expenses, all published winners received a $20 gift certificate at the college bookstore. Given the current pricing of text books, I can expect that to pay for one chapter out of my next batch of text books.

Not that I'm ungrateful, by any means. After all, you know what they say about gift horses and mouths.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

We don't need no education / We don't need no thought control / No dark sarcasm in the classroom / Teachers leave them kids alone / Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone! / All in all it's just another brick in the wall. / All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

-"Another Brick in the Wall part 2" by Pink Floyd

It's incredibly ironic that America, the self-proclaimed leading country of the free world, can produce some of the most fucked up children ever. Just found a link to a study showing that abstinence among teens may lead to risky sex acts. It's clear that they never told us that in sex ed, nor were they expecting it.

The whole issue on teen sexuality has been a hot-button topic since day one, although the level of controversy seems to depend on who is serving his term as American president (don't get me started on that). However, it seems that despite all the sex education (read: fear mongering) that the kids are being subjected to, stuff like this should be no surprise to anyone at all.

While teen pregnancy statistics have apparently gone down as of late, sexually transmitted diseases in teenagers are on the rise. Still, these are ridiculously high compared to some European countries, where America will have 79 pregnancies per 1000 teens, while France will have 20.2 pregnancies per 1000 teens. In Germany and The Netherlands, it's even lower, at 16.1 and 8.7, respectively (source: Advocates for Youth: Adolescent Health in Europe and the U.S.: Why the Difference?).

Conservative approaches to sex education and attitudes towards sex in general are often cited as one of the causes. After all, countries in Europe have nude beaches and hardcore pornography on television, whereas America will get its collective underwear in a knot over Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" incident at the Superbowl.

When I was growing up, sex education consisted of conservative educators instilling fear into the students by showing graphic abortion videos, referring to condoms as being ineffective in preventing pregnancies and spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and telling us how bad pre-marital sex is (and I'm not even talking about the quality of the sex itself). I once had a 4th grade teacher telling us that sudden exposure to cold water after a long hot day would cause AIDS. I can only wish I was kidding.

Although abortion is a bit too touchy of a subject for me to discuss personally, I can honestly say that much of what teachers tell the kids today fosters ignorance and leaves them extremely vulnerable. Teacher says that condoms have a high failure rate? Then what's the point of using them? Oh, we don't want to get pregnant and have to go for an abortion? That's fine, we'll just have oral sex instead. Oh, we can actually get a disease from doing that? They just told us that condoms were ineffective!

Ninth grade religion class had our teacher explaining to us why condoms were such a bad idea. He proceeded to draw a condom on the chalkboard and explained how semen could leak out during intercourse. Never mind the fact that the way he was drawing it depicted improper condom use (eg: didn't have the end pinched off, etc.).

I still have memories of school assemblies where they had guest speakers talking about the evils of pre-marital sex and how you had a one out of six chance of getting pregnant on your first try. After all of this, it's no wonder why Catholic school kids get a reputation for being the worst hellions.

As it is, sex is considered "sinful." Despite the fact that monkeys do it without a second thought, we're taught that it's unnatural and something that we shouldn't be doing. We're taught that it should be something only practiced within the confines of "holy wedlock" and only for the purpose of creating children.

Admittedly, I'm not currently in a relationship that allows me to be doing sinful, unnatural things that should only be practiced within the confines of "holy wedlock," but I do know enough to realize that this is highly out of touch with the rest of the world. Let' s just face it. You tell kids not to do something, you should know damn well that they're going to go out and do it. If you don't arm them with the proper information, then they're going to get themselves in trouble in the process.

If there was a teacher today that were to tell kids the truth, even if it's appreciated by the students, the teacher probably wouldn't last very long.

The future does seem somewhat rosy, being that we're willing to legalize same sex marriages here in Canada, much to the chagrin of the religious right (and to many Americans). However, given the amount of controversy, it'll be a really long time until we have North American sex education and standards up to the level of the European school system.

additional links:
European Approaches to Adolescent Sexual Behaviour and Responsibility (.PDF file)
Technical Virgin: A satirical look at teen abstinence, with video clips.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Then and Now

Even though I still don't have enough spare time to do spring cleaning (yet I have enough spare time to write about it), I managed to dig up this old relic from my childhood. When I was a kid, my sister and I used to play this all the time, although I highly suspect that we "made up" a lot of the rules back then.

Chinese Checkers tin

Chinese Checkers tin, close up detail

If you look at some of the images depicted on the board, this Chinese Checkers tin is about as Chinese as pizza. If you take a close look, you will find randomly scrawled characters that are supposed to look like Chinese words and stereotypical images of rickshaws and Chinese people that have almond-shaped slanty eyes, Fu-Manchu mustaches, and straw hats.

I wouldn't go all the way to refer to this as offensive, although it does make for some interesting discussion. As the global village gets progressively smaller, cultures become more and more diverse. Little things like these are reminders that it wasn't always like this.

If you look at some of the North American cultural values of the early- to mid-20th century, it's clear that they could get away with offending certain groups of people back in the day, partly because the WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) was not the visible minority that it is now. Stereotypes ran rampant in every sector of pop culture, ranging from comic books to popular films to cartoons. Some of them could be argued as relatively harmless, although some will really hit a nerve.

Some WWII era cartoon shorts were notable for this. In 1942, Paramount released a World War II propoganda cartoon entitled You're a Sap, Mister Jap, which depicted Popeye fighting the Japanese. This piece does have historical significance as it does reflect the times, but this cartoon will not likely be seeing the light of day any time soon, unless it is part of a retrospective that would feature Warner Brothers cartoons depicting Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck fighting the Nazis.

Today, old Dick Tracy cartoons featuring Go-Go Gomez and Joe Jitsiu won't see the light of day. Controversy over the Warner Brothers character Speedy Gonzales led to his cartoons getting pulled by the Cartoon Network, despite the fact that he is still hugely popular with Latin American audiences. Disney goes to great lengths to supress anything that would make the stockholders see them as less than family friendly by editing out racist images from Fantasia and denying all existence of them.

And then there's the stuff that's being produced today. The popular television show 24 is controversial among Arab-American communities due to the depiction of Middle-Easterners as terrorists. Possibly in response to that, the recent episode depicts the protagonist Jack Bauer going into an Arab-American owned gun store and getting help from the two proprietors. I haven't quite decided if pandering to ethnic groups is more offensive than reflecting the current news headlines.

How will we see this in thirty or forty years? If our reaction to culturally insensitive material from the mid-50s is an indication, we might see it even worse. But then, who really knows? It could be because the speed that information travels causes controversy to be stirred much faster, so it could very well burn itself out and be forgotten long before then.

As it is, when somebody does something particularly silly and puts up anything like an ad or a movie that features a negative stereotype, the response is immediate. Back when Disney's Mulan hit the theatres, it was praised for cultural accuracy by various Chinese communities (heck, I like it too). And then McDonald's went off and did a stupid thing by having a cross-promotion with the film and doing a commercial where a young girl forces her family to eat their lunch sitting on the floor, ending with Ronald McDonald karate-chopping something in half. "Hi-ya! Did somebody say McDonald's?"

After doing some research, I found that there are a lot of people who posess the same Chinese Checkers board and are trying to sell it on eBay, promoting it as a 1950's relic. My sister got it new in the early 1980s. The high bids hover around $5. Collector's item indeed.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

Technology-art project #3

This the latest in my series of weird technology art projects. Having already done two cellphone faceplates and a computer case, I used a 256MB flash drive manufactured by Kingston.

Stage 1: Unpainted

For best results, use 1000 grit sandpaper to remove the pre-existing finish so the paint will get a stronger grip on the surface.

Stage 2: Initial orange coat

The first layer of colours should be done in coats. I ended up using Testors' Model Paint which adheres to plastic quite well. I masked off some of the areas, partly because I wanted the logo to show through, but mostly because the green LED would be obscured by the paint if I didn't.

As I used a brush, the strokes came through. This is why multiple coats are necessary. Again for best results, 1000 grit sandpaper was used to smooth out the brush strokes.

Stage 3: Stripes masked off, painted in black

To create the tiger stripes effect, I tore strips of masking tape and wrapped them around. I decided to tear them rather than cut as I wanted a more organic appearance. I used a vice grip to keep the painted surfaces undisturbed.

Stage 4: All colours applied

After the tape was removed, there was some spill outside the lines, but these were touched up.

Stage 5: Final stage, with 2 coats of clearcoat applied

Clearcoat is good for smoothing out most of the lines and the texture. I ended up using Tremclad spray clear coat, which isn't necessarily the best applicator for smaller jobs like this, as it's harder to control the spray. But as model paint isn't intended to be repeatedly handled, it's important to do as it'll save the colours for a long time.

Next project: Will probably do another cell phone case.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Bad guys: 1, Vince: 0.

You'd think I'd learn after all these years to never park at the Scott Road Skytrain station, but like a girl who you really need to stop seeing, I continue to leave my vehicle for upwards of 4 hours at a time when I go off to do my Capoeira classes.

Long story short. The driver's side lock was jimmied, so it doesn't quite work the way it's supposed to anymore. They left the stereo behind because it was secured and the faceplate was not in the car, but they took the stereo mounting kit (!) and my garage door opener (!!).

So, let's recap my day. I blew a midterm and my car got broken into. Bad things happen in threes. It's a good thing there's only 27 minutes left in the day. Maybe I should go to bed early, but I think I'll wait it out and see what happens.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

To do list, March 8th, 2005.

  • Summarize articles for in-class presentation for next week on incorporating graphics in technical writing
  • Read chapters 1-2 and Appendix E of Mark My Words
  • Revise second draft of empirical research draft
  • Study for Wednesday midterm exam
  • Prepare oral presentation on professional writing website
  • Prepare portfolio and resume for two job applications for Thursday
  • Tear out hair (oh, wait, I already did that)

Note that sleep isn't on the list.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Unfortunately, shaving my head doesn't necessarily
make me play guitar like the guy on the left.

It has yet to be determined if I inherit male pattern baldness from my father's side (+) or my mother's side (-). Still, I made the conscious decision to go cueball on my own accord. It took a lot of effort and I actually needed a lot of assistance. I first attempted to do it all myself and managed to get rid of the bulk of it, but I missed a lot of spots. Once my mom was able to nail the stray tufts, from there it was going from 1/8ths of an inch down to the scalp.

My observations are as follows:
  • Most people who already know me reacted in shock. Reactions ranged from stunned silence to "Oh. My. God." In response to one reaction, I said, "Didja hear that? I got a 'woah,'" to which the person I talked to said, "And there's a good chance you'll get a 'wow' by the end of the day."
  • I'm having noticeably less stress since doing the cueball treatment. While I can partly attribute this to the fact that I have a lot fewer assignments due this week, I'm also noticing a constant cool breeze going through my hair (read: stubble) even in a heated room.
  • Showers take just as long, as the time that would normally be spent shampooing is now spent putting the electric razor to my scalp.
  • Bald people can have dandruff too (who woulda thought?).
  • Wool toques and hoodies are a lot harder to put on and removing them is almost like ripping velcro apart.
  • People will not always rub a bald person's head for good luck.

I never had really great hair to begin with, which was part of my motivation for removing it. That, and I'm suspecting that it was coming out due to stress (although that was possibly due to me tearing it out more than anything else). On top of that, I was way overdue for a haircut. Besides, when the electric razor costs $30 and a haircut starts at around $15, after a few buzzes at the razor, it's already paid for itself.

I promised myself years ago that if I was going to take after my late father and develop MPB, I would shave it. Nothing is more sad than men suffering from MPB in denial and doing the comb-over. That's worse than surgical techniques and hair-pieces.

My only beef is that what I'm saving in shampoo I'll end up spending on moisturizer for my scalp.

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