This ain’t Earth Day

Published July 1, 2014 by immaterialideal

Happy Canada Day everyone! What better to spend the day than talking about the environment?

As in the place where Spirit Bears live! Photo uploaded by Jackmont and licensed under CC-BY-SA

Despite our ruling party’s best efforts to make us forget our former reputation for environmental stewardship, we actually had a lot to be proud of. Here are a sampling of our finest accomplishments:

5. The Nature of Things. Since 1960, it has been teaching kids like younger me to love animals and be curious about the world. Contrary to what might be believed, David Suzuki only started hosting in 1979. Donald Ivey was actually the first host. But I didn’t live back then, so what do I know?

4. The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes. This one literally speaks for itself. Yep, Severn Cullis-Suzuki and co. raised money themselves to Rio as kids. She’s still at environmental advocacy as the more optimistic side of the Suzuki family these days.

3. The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). Remember your high school biology textbooks showing algae-choked lakes and how fertilizer caused it? Or acid rain destroying forests and landmarks? Well, you have the ELA to thank for your biology curriculum. Established in 1968 near Kenora, Ontario, it was a world-renowned institution, the only one that investigates entire lakes, that taught us what were inadvertently dumping into our water supply. David Schindler was the former head of the institution who continued doing tar sands* research at the University of Alberta, where he became known for freaky fish. Unfortunately, the Harper Government tried to kill it with the 2012 Omnibus Bill. But it has been recently saved by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, fortunately not an April Fool’s Joke.

*Yes, I know it’s called oil sands now, but it was always called Athabasca tar sands, even by Wikipedia, before industry wanted to be politically correct. Besides, the more accurate term is bituminous sands, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely.

2. The Clayoquot Sound protests, a real-life Lorax story with a happier ending. Until the Quebec student protests, it was the largest act of civil disobedience Canada ever witnessed, including logging road blockades and organizing boycotts against B.C. logging. Residents young and old participated, and more than 850 people were arrested, with the impact felt worldwide. And because of this group of thoughtful, committed citizens, we kept alive the 2/3 of the temperate rainforest that would have been cut down. Now ancient forests are viewed not just as resources to exploit, but living, breathing worlds to explore and absorb. The protests even changed the face of university forestry programs to more conservation-focused studies. Valerie Langer and Tzeporah Berman were the leaders of the protests as part of Friends of Clayoquot Sound, who went on to protect the Great Bear Rainforest through ForestEthics among involvement in other organizations. Enbridge, take note. The British Columbia populace is not to be trifled with.

1. The Montreal Protocol. Okay, this isn’t entirely Canadian, since Frank Sherwood Roland and Mario Molina of the University of California first broke the news that our chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were eating away the Antarctic ozone layer (here’s a simple primer on the chemistry involved) , but still, I’m astonished this happened. Somehow, the entire world managed to organize themselves to quickly act on phasing out CFCs from our aerosols. Sure, there was industry denial, but in the end, transition to the less destructive hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), then removing chlorine completely (HFCs) was unnaturally smooth. And now, we can see the recovery for ourselves. Also interesting, the sitting Prime Minster at the time was Brian Mulroney of the Progressive Conservative Party. Yeah, once upon a time, environmentalism was the norm in Canada and not something that branded you a terrorist. But in any case, the world worked together just this one time to fix the ozone layer. Now if only we could do the same for global warming.

Considering the dire state of science, environmental policy, even democracy in our country right now, it’s easy to forget why everyone loved us in the first place. Now it’s time for us to remember and not lose faith in the capacity for things to change. Education does work, protests do work, and it is possible to convince the entire world to get their act together.

And for more cheer, here are more Spirit Bear pictures courtesy of Paul Nicklen of National Geographic.

So long, Linden Macintyre

Published May 9, 2014 by immaterialideal

Disappointing news today. One of the investigative journalists for CBC’s the fifth estate has decided to step down. If you’re in Canada, you may remember Linden Macintyre for documentaries such as Brian Mulroney: The Unauthorized Chapter, which led to a national investigation over his shady dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber. One of my recent favourites was Silence of the Labs. Even being previously aware of how much the Harper government has censored science, it was heartbreaking to see Patricia Sutherland’s intriguing Baffin Island investigation on Norse settlements shut down. How someone could be against such knowledge is beyond me. Even the likely motive, maintaining Arctic sovereignty, seems too sinister for my mind to comprehend.

And so he was a living reminder of how important investigative journalism and in-depth, critical thought is to our country, especially with our PM doing our best to suppress it. And how. His motive for stepping down was so that younger CBC employees would be less likely to be laid off due to massive cuts. Alison Smith soon followed in taking the bullet for the young uns. Good people, the both of them. I shall look forward to the new blood replacing them.

Ultimately, he aimed to send a message. At stake is not only journalism, but the livelihoods of 657 people with these cuts. Say what you want about CBC’s fictional programming, but their reporting is top-notch and will be hard to replace. It’s time to recognize and defend our key public services from Harper’s attempts to starve the beast in the fraudulent name of a balanced budget. You can’t put a price on critical thinking. So Mr. Macintyre, I salute you.

Actually, now may be a good time to check out his work outside CBC. After all, he did win a Giller Prize for The Bishop’s Man.

Frozen Review: A Season Overdue

Published May 3, 2014 by immaterialideal

Obviously, spoiler alerts. Major ones in fact.

No seriously. If you’ve been living under a glacier the past months, stay under it until you climb out to see the movie. You’ll rarely get the chance to experience what it’s like to see a twist as major as Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Really.

Eh, whatever. Most people probably heard of everything already. But if you didn’t, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

—-

The Wicked Connection

So, Frozen. It was the movie most of us expected to hate. It has nothing to do with The Snow Queen! (to be fair, that one’s not a first for Disney). It takes the strong girl protagonist and makes her subservient to guys! Why is everyone so white? That snowman is freaking annoying! Those are a sample of complaints leading into it. And now it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Never has the collective world reacted so strongly to a Disney movie since The Lion King. Everyone can’t get enough out of it. Let It Go is practically an Internet meme, and the best known song of the year!

And somehow I avoided listening to the entire thing. Until now. So, since we all can’t get enough of Frozen, here’s my review.

First off, yes, it has nothing to do with The Snow Queen. In fact, just toss the original story out of your head when watching it. Also, a lot of noise was made about how it subverts the Disney movie tradition or how it doesn’t, whether it’s a refreshing change of pace or an unamusing self-mockery. But I think that misses the point, because it owes itself more to Wicked than anything. I mean, Elsa’s voice actor, Idina Menzel, is also Elphaba. That much is obvious, and the Internet has taken notice:

Let’s see, a story about a character who was a villain in the source material who gets reinterpreted as a tragic figure ostracized by society. She sings an awesome musical number about freeing herself from the constraints of society. The deuteragonist is a cheerful girl who acts more like the traditional fairytale protagonist while sharing a close emotional bond with her (and with actors named Kristen). The traditionally heroic figure turns out to be evil. Now am I talking about Wicked or Frozen?

Suddenly, the title change makes sense. As an analogy, Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz as Frozen is to The Snow Queen. Both titles describe an attitude. Not sure if that was what Disney intended, but there you go. At least they were honest about it not actually being about The Snow Queen. And unlike Peter Pan in which the live-action movie is completely better for restoring the themes cut out of the Disney version, Frozen is worth watching alongside the original tale as its own story.

—-

Memorable Quotes

“If only there someone out there who loved you” is the most dickish thing anyone has said in a Disney movie since “Long live the King.” Worst date ever. Yes, Hans being the villain seemed to have little foreshadowing, but it does make sense if you’re familiar with  antisocial personality disorder. And that’s what sociopaths do; they masquerade as a charmer only to reveal their true nature later down the line. Also, “unnecessary risk-taking”. He didn’t have to go “lol, I’m really evil!” He could have just made some excuse about the kiss not working. But that’s in line with someone who doesn’t think things through.

And Olaf? Doesn’t he remind you of those gargoyles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, those embodiments of Quasimodo’s imagination? He is like them, except I actually liked him, much to my surprise. It helps that the movie actually shows how much he embodies the cheerful innocence Elsa and Anna used to share before their mother and father picked up such bad parenting skills. His humour is not entirely to my taste, but he does fit in perfectly with the Anna gang. And of course, “Some people are worth melting for” indeed. Besides, if you wanted annoying mascot musical numbers, “Fixer-Upper” is your “A Guy Like You” equivalent.

Finally we arrive at one of the movie’s themes, “You can’t marry a man you just met.” I hate it when pop culture lies to me. Some herald it as Disney finally coming to its senses, while others point out that it’s not that revolutionary. Yes, movies Beauty and the Beast and especially Mulan took stabs at feminist themes before, but it’s certainly refreshing to hear such a message outright, as if Disney was apologizing for the unfortunate implications of, say, The Little Mermaid. And it fits in with the Wicked-style upheaval of fairy-tale conventions.

I have to say, though, it is impressive that it still feels like a sincere Disney movie even through masquerading as one. And while people constantly debate its feminist credentials, again, those who reduce it to a mere checklist miss the point. Feminism isn’t about checklists, after all.

—-

The True Meaning of Frozen

This section comes courtesy of two other fantastic blog posts about the movie, summed up in two points:

1. Let It Go is the movie. (Libby Anne from Love, Joy, Feminism) It singlehandedly transformed the entire movie from a conventional Disney adaptation into something special (kind of like The Emperor’s New Groove). You can still hear traces of how it could be interpreted as villainous (“That perfect girl is gone!”), but it’s meaningful that they changed their interpretation of Elsa because of the song. A powerful woman such as a queen is not to be feared, but respected and admired.

As I said, I avoided hearing the entire thing until I actually saw the movie, and I was enraptured when I finally saw the scene. The first thing that came to mind was that it sounded like a gay anthem, that unleashing her powers was a metaphor for “coming out.” But it’s more than just that. Being repressed and hiding your true self is a universal theme, so everyone can interpret the song in their own way. It’s empowering, yet a sadly ironic reminder of reality. I believe that’s why it caught on with international consciousness in a way not seen since Gangnam Style; it unites children and adults, girls and boys.

And, gotta say, hitting that high E-flat is extremely cathartic.

2. Who would have thought people wanted to see a story about two women? (Sara Lin Wilde) This is easily my favourite opinion piece on Frozen, because at its core, the movie is simply about two sisters trying to reconcile their strained relationship. We’ve all heard of the Bechdel Test and how it’s rare to find a movie with two women talking about something other than a man. If we can enjoy a buddy comedy about two men learning to get along (the aforementioned Groove; seriously though, it’s well worth watching), why can’t we enjoy a heartwarming tale of two women learning to get along? It’s what made Wicked enjoyable, and the same applies for Frozen. Against the expectations of the marketing circlejerk, boys have embraced this movie as much as girls have, and again, it’s because themes of family love are universal.

And as Sara astutely points out, it’s not about taking a side. Like Elphaba and Glinda before them, it’s a story about both Elsa and Anna. I felt just as much of a connection Anna feeling shut out and abandoned by her sister as, well, Let It Go. She is the one that comes to Elsa’s rescue, and Elsa in turn rescues her in the climatic scene. The main conflict is not about them individually, but how they could become as close as they used to be. And that they could share such a strong bond despite their opposing personalities, well, that’s the Bechdel Test incarnate. I agree, it’s more satisfying to see women work together rather than against each other, and the movie’s more successful for it. That’s the essence of feminism, and that’s the essence of this movie. Not gay propaganda. Not Disney slandering its classic movies. Not hating men. Just two sisters and love is all you need.

Besides, For The First Time In Forever is just as good a song as Let It Go. Well, the reprise is…a bit short. But you get my point.

—-

So is it as good as it’s hyped up to be?

Yes and no. It’s not anything revolutionary, but that’s not the point. It’s just a simple, charming story of two sisters that happens to be self-aware of Disney clichés. So yes, the hype is justified.

Birds

Published April 20, 2014 by immaterialideal

What can I say, they’re adorable. Not the easiest creatures to catch on photography, but splendid when you can get a good shot.

See how many birds you can spot.

How many birds can you spot?

But as we all know, looks aren’t everything. Luckily, birds are full of personality.

IMG_20140416_110851

Inquisitive university visitors.

They’re among the smartest animals on Earth. Ravens and crows are quite adept with tools, and even can learn what gravity is.

And they  know their way around people. One can only imagine what bird society is like.

One can’t forget Raven’s place in the Haida creation story, such as how he stole the sun to give to the world. And nowadays, his descendants continue to trick people out of stuff, or at least try to. They even made their mark in video games with the awe-inspiring Chozo of Metroid fame.

Imagine, someday, they could well inherit the earth. But in the meantime, they will continue to watch high above us as we in turn watch them.

The hero humanity deserves.

The hero humanity deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

Growing up boring

Published March 29, 2014 by immaterialideal

If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.

-Winston Churchill.

Yeah, that “conservative at forty” part? That’s what I’m afraid of.

You may remember an old children’s story, Verdi, by Janell Cannon (and if you don’t, the rest of the paragraph is all spoilers). Putting aside “snakes are cool” for a bit (though they are), it’s about a young yellow snake that tries to stop becoming green because that’s the colour of the lazy, boring, and rude adult snakes. Over time, he inevitably molts anyway, but that doesn’t stop him from showing off some figure-8′s to the young uns. The takeaway message, of course, is that you’re still you regardless of age. Which is why I’m still talking about children’s stories (though the 90s are only old in Internet years).

When I think about adulthood, I am reminded of that story since my perception of adults, particularly those who leaned conservative, were very similar. It seemed like adults only cared about their job, escaping their job, money, and telling those damn kids they’re living all wrong (e.g. the above quote). The wider environment is of only tangential concern, with their only problem being other people complaining about global warming and other things. Still, everywhere I look, there are adults having fun, doing amazing stunts, stirring up trouble with the government, and much more. In fact, many have even apologized to us for leaving the world in the state it is now. So why I haven’t really shaken off this prejudice entirely? It’s because of the stereotypical idea of “growing up” that has been drilled into my head since childhood, with mantras ranging from “just a phase” to “entitled generation”.

I was unnerved by the idea of “maturity” meaning “being a dullard who doesn’t give a damn about anything”. I couldn’t imagine a life without at least striving for a job you can enjoy rather than a mere obligation, or making the world a better place for the next generation, or constantly enriching and challenging yourself with new ideas and experiences. What they called “maturity”, I called “giving up on life”. So I made myself a promise: that I would not lose my way.

Of course, I don’t interact with people older than me the same way I do my own age group. It feels like there’s a mental barrier between generations, since values change with time. Even in regards to media, how does one talk about Pokémon to those born before it? I remember when I spent a lunch hour discussing Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. During the discussion, we brought up how it was weird that her father said he understood her in a way he never did before. I didn’t think much of that the first time, but now, I did appreciate it, since it felt like making the movie was a way to break down the barrier between them. And well, I felt a similar barrier break down with talking to professors in that discussion, not as superior/subordinate, but as equals.

Honestly, I don’t miss my childhood. I am happy to have gained self-awareness in place of self-centredness. And I do acknowledge that young people can be very naive simply because we haven’t gained as much lived experience. The problem with young people is that they think they know everything. But the problem with older people is, well, the same. The Emperor’s New Clothes was written for this very reason, one of many stories that celebrate the wisdom of youth. Naiveté can be an advantage because the naive haven’t limited themselves to certain perceptions of the world yet, and that’s what I enjoy about still being young: the world feels limitless. And when I think about adults who act the same way: Chris Hadfield, Nik Wallenda, Amy Purdy, Stephen Hawking, I realize that “turning green” won’t be so bad after all. Of course, Rob Ford and Ted Cruz show that age is no barrier to immaturity.

Though I grow older and wiser, In many ways, I haven’t changed much. I’m still wanting to save the animals, buying stuffed toys, and drawing attention to myself with my idiosyncrasies. And telling children’s stories.

Contempt: The Insidious Abuser

Published March 15, 2014 by immaterialideal

You’ve likely felt it many times. That your opinion is worth nothing. That you’re not permitted to talk. That you are inherently lower than the person talking you down. And no matter how educated you become, how much you try to understand, you’re stuck on the bottom rung of the social caste.

Or perhaps you’ve been on the other side. Believing that you know everything. Believing your self-declared credentials make you better qualified to talk, regardless of the subject. Believing that you don’t need to listen because you’ve already seen it all. Believing that your experience speaks for all citizens of Earth. For the issue is solved and it’s just a bunch of complainers ruining everything.

Or you’ve been both. Contempt is difficult to spot for the untrained mind.

The very core of an abusive relationship is contempt. Controlling personalities find it easier when the other person’s very existence is invalidated. But in society, it manifests itself in ways beyond the worst examples. You can see it in parenting, in which children talking back are inherently seen as nuisances. Pointing out racist and sexist jokes only gives you back labels of “oversensitive” and “lacking a sense of humour” (the latter to which I reply with this). We claim “innocent until proven guilty”, yet mercilessly scrutinize the testimony of rape victims. And for our current capitalist system, contempt may as well be a core value. Students protesting high tuition are seen as coddled and entitled. Teachers protesting the government bargaining illegally are seen as obstructive and unpleasable, as are workers in general fighting against the inherent power imbalance between them and bosses. But when you’re on the side with benefits, you have more protection against unwanted opinions.

In a way, contempt is a shield. Having your perception of the world fractured or even shattered is heartbreaking, and it is an arduous effort to rebuild your worldview. The just-world fallacy is one way contempt slithers into the mind; who doesn’t want to believe that what happens to a person depends on their own actions? It implies you have control over your life. If you really don’t, well, that’s a frightening thought. And it’s draining to be emotionally invested in a person, to the point where it’s tempting to simply shut off your connection by believing their own doing led to their current problems.

I don’t claim to understand the motives of people like Margaret Wente and Barbara Kay when they so passionately rail against the notion of rape culture. The above paragraph is merely speculation, as I too am disconnected from social circles like theirs. But when I hear about this victim blaming, the shadow of my past hovers over me, reminding me of being powerless and invalidated, my lived experience meaning nothing. Yet people support these opinions which attempt to silence the voices of those who have lived through trauma, and that’s depressing. I am convinced that the most dangerous person in the world is a sycophant, for one cannot have power without support. The sound of one person speaking in an empty room reaches no one, but a mob of people shaming one, that’s power. Still, I attempt to be sympathetic to the Wentes and Kays of the world, as believing in malice over ignorance also drains away hope.

Contempt will only cloud your vision, stunting your emotional growth with no one to learn from. The antidote to contempt is empathy, of course, but humanity’s greatest challenge is being unable to live through others’ experiences. It’s more than claiming to be open-minded; one has to listen in order to understand a person’s motives and how their actions and the world’s reactions connect. And to listen, one has to step outside their echo chamber and talk to the people they once criticized from a distance, protected from their backlash. Looking inside myself, what I say and do does not occur in a vacuum, so why frame others in my own simplistic template? Most importantly, it’s okay to be wrong. One who believes they are always right believes they never need to change. It is by making mistakes that we grow and adapt.

I recently realized that when thinking of Stephen Harper’s supporters, I am incapable of seeing their motive in a way that isn’t condescending, and only reading and listening to other left-wing sources feeds contempt. And while I am incensed by his actions, I cannot assume that everyone else shares his motives. And so, I too have a lot to learn. I hope we all can realize the ways contempt manifests itself and work together for a future in which empathy dominates our human interactions. Someday.

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