Hooman's Scribbles

Friday, February 28, 2003
Unanswerable question

We are victim of circumstance if we fail and author of our fortune if we succeed. That must be true in most cases and for most people. We rarely admit luck had to do with our sucess and that we have been author of our misfortune. But are we victim of situation we are in or winner of our fate?

Wednesday, February 26, 2003
Who needs friends when you have adversaries like these?

Do you remember back in a few years ago when the whole world protested against France's resumption of nuclear tests in the South Pacific, and Jacques Chirac would not listen? Do you know what France is up to in Ivory Coast when Chirac ordered his troops into the African country? Do you know why Chirac looks the other way when Russia runs a brutal war in Chechnnya?

Last year during the French elections, his government was hated, but still preferred to his left-wing rival, Lionel Jospin by French voters. However, what made him the man of the hour, on whom the whole France's sanity hinged, was the sudden rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the controversial extremist, in the polls. People from all opinions rushed to vote for the conservative Chirac just to ensure Le Pen was out. The second time around Mr. president won with a huge margin.

Almost a year later, he has become the most upfront beacon of hope for the world peace. Not again because of those supporting him, but simply because of the politicians who happen to be in his way. Apparently you don't have to worry about popularity when you take on Jean-Marie Le Pen or George W. Bush. Only Le Pen could make Chirac look like a leftie, and only Bush can make him look like a peace activist.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Not exactly a win-win situation

US is politically in a risky situation. Even if Saddam agrees to peacefully disarm, the destruction of his weapons will be more damaging to the US administration than Saddam's possible use of those weapons as they have heavily invested in this project. Do you think US and UK have gathered up their troops and have gone through all these rhetorics for nothing? If Saddam does not agree, the situation won't be that predicatble for US in the long run either. In the short run, though, US along the alliance of "good will" conquer Iraq and replace Saddam with ... I don't know what. But the silence in Arab world, both among the public and governments, should not be comforting to them. Don't they think, even if pro-American dictatorships crumble down in the region, because of a "free" Iraq, democracy will not necessarily mean pro-American?

Monday, February 24, 2003
An idea for a reality TV show

I am sick and tired of all arguments over the war. The last one I heard about was "building a moral case for war" by some pro-war countries. In the end of the day, war is war, not a moral thing. Can you imagine a moral missile? Where were those "moral" governments when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own citizens and Iranian soldiers in the '80s? They simply preferred to turn a blind eye on those events. They took the time to withdraw their diplomatic envoys long enough only when Iraq ended the war with Iran, refurbished his army, and invaded Kuwait after a few years. There used to be a word for it ... what was it? Hmmm ... oh, I remember now: HYPOCRISY.
What about weapons of mass destruction? I don't need to raise the question of "how imminent is the danger". You are already aware of various arguments on that, and I'd rather save you from the boredom of those discussions here. However, even if there were weapons of that nature, there should be no pending war over it. If diplomats and politicians opt for war on hitting every single bump on the road, they should stop calling themselves diplomat. And next time we would be better off voting for military generals directly than civilian candidates who are supposed to use every diplomatic channel.

On the other hand, those governments that are against the war do not have moral grounds for their opposition either. France and Germany simply see their control over European Union's future slipping away. Not only that, more of their control will be left in US hands after Iraqi oil fields are exploited by pro-American consortia. They were not thinking about civilian lives --based on which these governments build their case against the war, when they were busy equipping a warring Saddam with Iran with state of the art weapons. To some Iraqis, these two countries are just standing in the way of Iraq's freedom only to keep their own stature in Europe and the world. For now, though, French and German governments continue to enjoy their ride of popularity in their countries. Enough is already said about Russia and China's would-be practice in similar situations. When was the last time Russia consulted UN and tried to build consensus before attacking a country, e.g. Afghanistan?

It is once again ordinary people who are manipulated by politics and end up paying the price either way, perhaps one way more than the other. I wish, just for a change, there would be a sports arena where politicians fight to death gladiator-style with one another and people were left to live their lives. The first contestants would be George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein in a ... let's say, new reality TV show. Now these programs are treading on a new territory of putting people up to knock each other out in faked romance or boxing ring --Mike Tyson's new show, it could be a good sell. Then the French and German statesmen could sort out their issues with their British and Eastern European counterparts. This program could easily fill in the dead airwaves caused by the existing shallow reality TV shows. I would be so there to watch this show.

Friday, February 21, 2003
Celebrating my mediocrity

I watched TV for a change last night.

First half an hour: An interview with a guy and gal was on. They had been hooked up together through the reality TV show, Bachelor, before breaking up after 5 weeks.

Second half an hour: The same channel showed an interview with another gal and guy who had found love to each other in Bachelorette, another reality TV show.

Second hour, the same channel again: "Are you hot?" was on. There were one or two dozens young men and women in the show who were first divided by audience into "hot" and "not hot" category through the simple mechanism of applause and boos. Then "hot" ones, stripped to their bathing suits, cat-walked up to a panel of judges of three who gave them scores based on looks on the face, body, and sex appeal. Judges occasionally used laser pointer to pin down muscles or areas on contestants? bodies that tarnished sex appeal.

All programs were cut by previews of another reality TV show, called 'Marriage by America'. From the sound of it, it is based on matchmaking of a few couples who see each other for the very first time on their engagement night. The matchmaking is done by viewers' votes. So much for pre-arranged marriages in some Eastern countries.

All my attempts to change the channel ended in American Idol, Canadian Idol, or Interview with Michael Jackson.

Well, it was too much KISS -- see the previous post, for me. Perhaps it is time for me to get High Speed Internet and celebrate my mediocrity in another way.

KISS: A note to self

I like the title of 'Information Update' for an FM radio station newscast, specially if you get it every couple of hours, instead of being bombarded every hour on the hour. It sounds laid-back and above all friendly. Well, how about starting off your headline with the most important news item, weather, when the whole world is wondering over the question of Iraq's "material breach" of UN resolution? Then a brief touch on what is going on locally, followed by the Iraqi thing? How about also having a news item on last night's reality TV show?
That is pretty much what I want to know about the world and I get it on a classic rock FM radio station. I also appreciate the fact that they keep their commercials shut up as much as possible between 9am-5pm.

Am I getting ignorant? As long as I keep my mouth shut on the things that I don't have a clue or am losing clues on, nobody can call me ignorant. I would be ignorant the moment I start judging and worse condemning others without knowing the contexts. After all, what was the point of all my efforts to find answers for my questions? To feel comfortable to open my mouth and judge stuff? Well, I have got news for myself. No matter how hard I try, I still won't have any clue and I still will sound ignorant. So I have started telling myself: "Keep It Simple, Stupid".

Thursday, February 20, 2003
Middle-of-the-road country, fast lane media

The title describes my, perhaps short, impression of a gap between Canada's public opinion and its media. I have come to understanding the media in Canada does not truly reflect public's opinion. But what would I really know about Canada? Not so much. I haven't traveled in the country that much either. Back in a while ago, though, I read a column in the Globe and Mail that backed up my uncertain feeling on the issue. So instead of me do the writing, I leave it with Lawrence Martin and his column . According to him, a European diplomat had the same notion as I do.

Plagued by poor aircraft saftey

Today I came across this news item in BBC that somehow confirms what I posted last night.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Sanctions risk people's lives

Iran has been a target of US trade embargo since 1979 that has made the country resort to other suppliers of technological products. This has not been the only impact of the sanctions. Long-term financial malaise is a side effect that has intensified through internal fiscal mismanagement and administrative corruptions. Aviation industry is one of the hardest hit by the US policy against Iran. The aging Iranian fleet that mainly utilizes Boeing, purchased before 1979, and Airbus is in need of upgrade badly. Some approaches to sign the deal with the European consortium that manufactures Airbus failed simply because more than 10% of components, specifically the engines, put on the planes had been made in the United States. But in March 2002, Iran finally managed to get around that problem by separately ordering the engines to Britains Rolls Royce. These planes will start their work under Iranian flagship carrier Iran Air on 21 of March, 2003 --start of the Iranian New Year.

Till then, and even perhaps after that, poorly maintained, and sometimes second hand, planes keep endangering peoples lives.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Typical North American city

There is something wrong with Toronto, the biggest city of Canada. Some people say that "Torontonians are snub", "America wannabes", "New York wannabes", or "they found a new use for army in a country". But seriously something was wrong with Toronto over the past weekend. Only 10,000 people marched in Toronto for peace whereas 20,000 Vancouverites took part in their own protest. Was it cold? Not more than Montreal where 100,000 people showed. It could be just because Toronto is more English and more reserved than the passionate, and French-dominated Montreal. But is it more English than London? After all, San Francisco and Los Angeles, both seemingly have the same culture, present different ambiances.
Even if you are pro-war what happened, or what did not happen, in Toronto shouldn't cheer you up. Apparently pro-war diplomats rejoice the atmosphere created by peace protests (see Rejoicing is the word post). I am serious. This is not a vibrant and lively city as is talked up by its politicians.
The fact of the matter is that the Greater Toronto Area is geographically spread in a vast region. Check my 'Changing cities' post, and you will catch on to what is on my head about probably one of the reasons behind Toronto's cold response to an international cause. When your sense of a city shrinks to an island, called your neighbourhood, do you think you will still stand united with fellow residents of other islands on issues that indirectly concern you?
You might ask what fabric of a city, reflected in that particular post, has got to do with a political issue like war on Iraq. Let me give you an example through a personal experience. I live in a compact model of Toronto, named the city of Ottawa. A bunch of my friends and I used to go to pub on a certain day of the week. Keeping up this ancient tradition turned out to be a hard thing after a while. People's lifestyle and priority changed. But above all being far-flung far one another made us make a lot of compromises in our tradition. To make things worse, bus service to far corners of the city stop in early hours of evenings, and you cannot basically drive after drinking. The end of this group's get-togethers was so at hand that one of us came up with a half joking, half serious idea. Instead of driving one hour on traffic-less highways to get to a pre-determined pub, or each other's place, every Saturday we could buy a keg of beer, stay home, and have video conferencing at a certain hour with the help of a web camera. This way we would have an e-pub with the luxury of our own home. We skipped this suggestion simply because we preferred to leave this practise for our next generations to try.
Now my question is this: when you discuss such an idea to overcome physical hurdles on the way to one of your pastimes, will you be enthusiastic enough to take part in other activities?
I think what Toronto and many other North American cities need is more of e-activities to help developing more "rejoicing" cities ;)

Monday, February 17, 2003
Rejoicing is the word

According to the organizers 2 million people, and according to police more than 750,000 people took to the streets of London over the weekend, a large number by any rate. Poll after poll shows that majority of the British people is against the war even with a UN endorsement. Will those voices be heard? I doubt it. But I have a thought. If one tenth of the number of people, who marched through London streets, hypothetically appeared in the streets of Baghdad, demanding something against their government's policies, many things would be changed in Iraq, or any other dictatorial country for that matter. It would be a revolution then, not a peaceful protest. The problem with this hypothesis is that you cannot find even a couple of people daring to show in a protest against those governments.
In one instance, you could take part in a protest, but your voice falls on the deaf ears of representatives you elected, and in another instance you cannot even express your opinion. In both cases the majority of people's wish is practically ignored. There is a bit of practical difference though. "I rejoice that we live in a country where peaceful protest is a natural part of our democratic process." Tony Blair put it this way on the same day the peace protests occurred.
It's kind of frustrating that rejoicing the ambiance your opinion has created is the maximum acknowledgement you could get from an elected politician. However, it is kind of rejoicing, at the same time, when you think you can express yourself even if it is in vain. Yeah rejoicing is the word to describe the practical difference between democratic Britain and dictatorial Iraq.
On a more cynical note, that is perhaps what Tony Blair could have in mind of bringing about in Iraq: rejoicing future Iraqi leaders while ignoring popular demands.

Saturday, February 15, 2003
A cynical look at Valentine's Day

I feel like picking a bone with Valentine's Day now that it is almost over. First of all I have a problem with any corporate-promoted occasions. Not that I am against corporations. But I see myself more than just a sucker, falling for any sales idea that a post card company (See Note), or any other companies for that matter, comes up with. It seems with every passing year we, corporations and couples, all want to top our last year's achivement on this day, whether by posting record profits or impressing our significant others. But I simply think if we love our significant others, we have to try to celebrate that love everyday day that we are together. And if we don't love, pretending will not bring about love.
Another issue that fortunately enough has not caught on --I think, is that some people have the impression Valentine's Day is just a one way street whereby only men should give gifts to their loved ones. Although there are many reasons to this, one aspect is interesting. This impression is boosted by TV commercials where men are shown giving gifts to women.
Look around. By far items that one can buy for women as gift simply outnumber items for men, unless you look at an auto parts, sports, or computer stores. Part of the reason is the fact that men are not particularly small item shoppers and those who hate shopping in malls make up a large portion among the Martian species. We can live with minimal facilities and luxuries in a shed :) We just love cars, sports gears, and gadgets that cost a fortune.
Retailers of household products perfectly know this and their marketing departments accurately target the appropriate group of society. Little wonder why there are so many commerical on feminie items during the weeks leading to this day.

Having said all that, I better stop this journal to catch up with a few things before heading out for a Valentine's Day party later tonight. Yes, I am not a radical.

Note: Hallmark has had a crucial role in promoting Valentine?s Day in the early 1900's.

Daring the cold

When it comes to peace protest, I admire the Canadian peace protesters more than any of their counterparts. For some people in Sydney, Australia, or Berkley, California, it might be cool hanging around with their buddies in the demonstrations and having an extra shot of fun ocassionally by smoking the illegal leaves. However, it is not pleasant at all to take part in such protest in Canada during the winter. Those who participate must be really determined people.
Yesterday as usual I hopped on the downtown bound bus to get to work. But right before hitting the downtown core, the driver asked us to get off as he was stuck behind a backup of traffic in bus lane. The reason: gridlock created by the protest. I don’t know how many people took part in the demonstration, but it had surely built up a backlog of traffic.
A combination of the reason I was leaving the bus and a cold morning breeze, hailing me on my face once I set foot on pavement, gave me the idea for the journal title today. On the bright side for protesters, there was no wind, but it was –72 degrees centigrade ( -16.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Even with no wind, the Canadian cold creeps into your body surely but slowly. It takes a few seconds till you feel the stuff in your nose start freezing. It takes a minute till you dont feel your face anymore. A few minutes later, your face starts feeling as if being cut by razor. And that was exactly when I happened to find a bus that would detour the gridlock.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Recycling night

I am out of ideas after being busy for a while and not having an input of information and ideas --during the past few days, I have been using from backlog of my thoughts. So I put the flow of input back on to my mind by reading some on-line papers in order to have some outputs. Here is the result. I have one recycled journal and one journal on recycling.

Recycled journal:

The first note is made up of excerpts from Lysiane Gagnon's column, Inside Quebec, in the Globe and Mail. That is why I call it recycled journal. Recycled not in a sense that I took those selected paragraphs out of trash. Absolutely not.
It has been always a question on mind why Quebec is a bastion of French (speaking) cults. Here is her take on it that makes a lot of sense to me:

"French-speaking cults are attracted to Quebec in part because of the province's generous treatment of religious groups, which are considered non-profit organizations and exempt from paying taxes. True to North America's general philosophy toward religious movements -- and also because of the requirements of the Charter of Rights -- Quebec makes no distinction between established religions and cults [new religions, so they say]."

"In France, where there is firm separation between church and state, only Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims are granted fiscal privileges. Furthermore, the government has drawn up a list of 172 groups it considers to be cults; those deemed the most [so called] dangerous are subject to special scrutiny. The list, which attracted criticism from civil libertarians, includes Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists. Some parliamentarians even tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to present a law that would have allowed the state to ban groups that are convicted of [what is called] mental manipulation."

"This suspicion toward cults is not without reason. In the mid-'90s, a loony doomsday cult -- the Order of the Solar Temple -- orchestrated mass suicide-killings by fire in France, Switzerland and Quebec in the belief that its members would be transported to a happier planet. A total of 74 people died. The Solar Temple, too, had its headquarters in Quebec. The cult's high priests included middle managers at Hydro-Québec and a Swiss orchestra conductor."

"The French leaders of another group, L'Acropole, considered a cult in France, are now in Quebec and have become Canadian citizens. Meantime, the Raelians are seeking charitable-organization status to allow their followers to receive tax deductions."

"Socially, as well as legally, Quebec is much more welcoming than France for cults. In Valcourt, which was invaded by foreign journalists and TV crews after the Raelians announced the first birth of a human clone, people are skeptical but highly tolerant of their strange neighbours. The Raelians are no trouble, say the villagers; they keep to themselves and they're good for local businesses."

"Fortunately, none of the cults have gained much ground. According to Statistics Canada, only 1,900 Quebeckers adhere to a "new religion," and most of them are Jehovah's Witnesses."

Journal on recycling:

Even though the world is going to a war, I am continuing to recycle to hopefully save the planet! I use three nylon bags. One goes for papers and cardboards, one for metal, plastic, cartons, and glass, and one for everything else. But apparently in Germany obsession with recycling is not uncommon. I read a column on recycling practice that some people in Bavaria keep up with. They separate not only paper, glass and cans, but also PET plastic from PP plastic, aluminum (regular) from aluminum (compound), tetra packs, large plastic containers from small. In one case there were 29 bins set up in cellar, and it didn’t sound to be out of the norm.
What would you do with a yogurt container? Paper label is meticulously removed, aluminum foil is peeled off, and all are separated from the plastic container. To make things sound more like a chore, they clean their garbage to avoid the foul smell.
The last, but not so interesting part -- in comparison to the issues mentioned above, is that if you fail to observe the recycling codes, garbage police will be there to fine you.

Back in Onatrio, our building got penalized by the local garbage company once or twice too, and I know some neighbourhoods in Greater Toronto were up to pass bylaws whereby households would be subject to similar fines, but 29 bins in your cellar is really something else.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003
No moral conclusion

I think it is a human nature to infer a conclusion from every case in hand and try to apply it to other cases that seem to be of the same nature. We all tend to generalize assumptions, perhaps, to feel more comfortable and confident about complicated and unknown issues. In doing so, we sometimes make the inevitable mistake of oversimplification.
I don't know how and since when I came to this point where my official policy changed to "there is no moral conclusion". But, as an ordinary person, my unofficial practice is still occasional generalization. However, I remember the last instance whereby my official position got more solid.
Last summer, as an alternative to being a couch potato, I decided to research on the topic of small government versus big government; capitalism versus western European socialism. I just wanted to see a bigger picture to the then ongoing discussions of Ontario's hydro privatization and Canada's health care future. As two successful examples for each case, I picked the pro free market Switzerland and the welfare state of Sweden models. My sources were a few books and the Internet. I don't want to bore you with details. But during the first few weeks my opinion would swing from left to right and right to left, depending on the last material that I had read on each state. Thanks god I was conscious of the phase I was going through, and I kept shut up on the altering issues on my mind.
More I got involved in details, more I learned about the countries' history and culture. I don't remember a bit of those things now. Waste of time? No, because what I remember now is more valuable to me than the way unions formed in Sweden or trade deregulation laws passed by the Swiss parliament. I came up with my moral conclusion:
The history of each country, society, person is unique and hence experiences gained by them cannot be applied to others. What works for me would not exactly work for you. Bottom line: There is no moral conclusion.
That includes this note as well.

Monday, February 10, 2003
Short temper in the high temperature region

The Middle East is stereo typified with its lack of tolerance. Mind you, short temperedness is not limited to the Middle East. This characteristic is also associated to Greece and Turkey. Close enough? There is no need to give example or explain it more. But why is that? Someone must do a research on it. Here is my take, that is subject to change as my knowledge expands, on some of the cliché possibilities:

Religion: Good guess when you want to ignore history. Except for the last few decades, there has been no evidence of religion stirring up out of ordinary intolerances in the region. While the rest of Europe was imposing its uncompromising religious and cultural rule on its nonconformist minorities (research for the origion of gypsies in Europe to get an impression), religious minorities enjoyed their relative freedoms in the hot weather of the region. You can find Jewish, Christian, Zoroasterian neighborhoods in the Iranian conservative cities. Jewish and Christians lived peacefully along Muslims throughout the region without the need to hide their religion as opposed to the mono-religion Europe.
There were Muslim on Muslim crack-downs, though, but so were Christian on Christian ones in Europe.

Unfavourable weather and living condition: Harsh weather, general lack of water, and consequently adverse living conditions are sometimes raised as reasons of temper problem in the Middle East. Again I have to question it with an example from Iran. In Iran there are two big sand deserts, the Kavirs . Cities built along or on the fringe of kavirs are specifically renowned for their people's tolerance. Desert makes you humble and enduring, as the local saying goes.On the contrary, there are greener areas in the Middle East that are known for their opposite of endurance. And by the way they are not isolated examples. I better stop this item here to avoid offending anyone ;)

Politeness and Culture: Middle Easterners are usually polite, both in their words and practice.On a lighter note, they are not particularly desensitized to deviations either verbally or practically. Ironically any bump in conversation or attitude could turn this polite lot into an impolite one. I am partially joking with this issue here, but there is an element of truth in it.
On the other hand, a web of complicated customs and traditions are developed and piled up in the course of the region's long history. Breach of any trivial custom or acting unorthodox could be regarded offensive and controversial.

Final thought: I wish I knew more about other old cultures like Chinese!

Sunday, February 09, 2003
Long overdue note

I once read in Ottawa Citizen that Harvard University had called it the most intellectual TV show. I don't know how they measured intellectuality, but to me some of The Simpsons episodes are simply the smartest TV act I have ever seen.
To a newcomer to North America whose primary language is not English, the series is just an endless source of vocabulary. Mr. Burns' highbrow terms, Lisa's philosophical statements, and lowbrow expressions of Homer and the son, Bart, are simply fascinating. And to anyone else, there are social, philosophical, political, and above all satirical aspects to it.
The Simpsons reside in Springfield, in a fictional state. The characters in the cartoon insist they are small town guys, a town where has the lowest voting turnout, and the reputation of the worst living city in the United States. However, Springfield is just a compact USA. They simply have everything that symbolizes the country and everything happening in it.
Unlike non-cartoon TV sitcoms, where you get to know characters after a few times watching them, the show offers new aspects to the characters' personal life that could take you aback after religiously following the series for many years.
Social challenges in marriage, parenting, etc - you name it, are all touched on by the most beloved family in the United States.
Ironic dilemmas are pictured before your eyes in their simplest fashion. In 'Marge Be Not Proud' Bart is barred from buying the newly released computer game, Brainstorm, by Marge who has a foot on the discipline side. After overhearing a spoiled boy ordering his yielding mom to buy the game in the store, and being talked into stealing the game by the school's bullies, Bart pushes a game package under his jacket and walks out of the store. He is caught by the security, and while being led inside, the spoiled boy and his mom step out. The woman's comment of "That boy's parents must have made some terrible mistakes" is simply priceless.
The show also has no mercy for either fat cat, fraud, and womanizing Democrat , or blood sucking, cold-hearted Republican politicians. Even Dracula has a seat at the Springfield's Republican Party Convention.
Finally the satire is what you cannot get enough of in the cartoon. It is what makes the show reach outside the boundary of its cult of fans. The satire makes up a wide spectrum. When Bart ear pierces to catch up to the fad introduced by Milhouse, Lisa's comment is very thoughtful, "An earring, how rebellious! In a conformist sort of way." Actually the funny side of this humour is overshadowed by an intellectual touch. On the other hand, when Otto and Homer, both under the influence of Marijuana, look at their hands all day long just to spend some time, Otto's remark is simply ha-ha funny: "They call them fingers, but I have never seen them fing ..[pause]... Oh, there they are". That is simply hysterical.

Although catching on to the nonstop references made in the sitcom is not easy at all, the sitcom offers different types of impressions to different types of people.

Saturday, February 08, 2003
Changing cities

How would you differentiate a city, let's say the city you live in, from other cities, where you have traveled or know? I would say cities are like people. They all have a sense of individuality that sets them apart from one another and they also have common denominators, again like people. If you take significant places and neighborhoods out of any big city, the rest will be concrete, pavement, houses, and thousands of moving metallic objects, aka cars. But a city can have a different significance to every single of its habitants and visitors. To an outsider, a city can be characterized by its museums, natural beauties, historical sites, its entertainment, or a combination of those. To an insider, though, who usually tends to take touristy aspects for granted, a small and cozy restaurant, local bookstore, or high school could mean a lot. You know your hometown, or the city you live in, by the grooves you get and by the people you know. And you miss it because of those little pieces including the human portion. It is more than a sense to you. It is what makes you drive all the way from one end of the city to the other just to have a good time at a restaurant, or shop at a distinctive store where its ambiance and merchandise uniquely appeal to you. However, the distinct feel of every city is diminishing, as is individuality among humans. This is not simply a requiem for cities, but rather I am raising an urban design concern in its simplest fashion.
Things that you would recognize your city with are gradually giving way to things that will make it to be look-alike of other cities. You will no longer take the time to travel to other parts of city to shop from a chain retail store that happens to have a branch in your neighborhood. By the way this gold mine in your neighborhood with its spacious parking lot will change the fabric of your community forever. Outskirts of cities provide cheaper property as incentives for land hungry shopping malls. And soon the malls will become "the meeting places" as a humorous Canadian writer put it. At least they are already meeting places for brand names and chain stores.
Why would you shop at a boutique somewhere else when you have its branch in your vicinity? This question applies to every little piece of city that bears a little weight to you, except for human part of course. Other parts of the city will become irrelevant to you. Moreover, your city and its feel will be limited to the malls in your neighborhood where there is no other way to get there than polluting the air by car.
In return what you will earn are better service, better quality in some cases, higher quantity in other cases, and of course hopefully discounted prices. There is no question that the generous return policies, customer support services, and smiling clerks of the new stores will raise the bar of customer satisfaction standards for the "take it or leave it" attitude of many of the old stores.
Is the tarde-off worth it? I cannot answer it. However, everytime that I walk past a new chain store, I can feel cities are changing.

Monday, February 03, 2003
"I don't like Mondays"

"The silicon chip inside her head gets switched to overload", sing Boomtown Rats in their no. 1 hit "I don't like Mondays." This song was later redone by many rock stars including Tori Amos and Bon Jovi amongst others.
The story behind the song happens in early February of 1979 when Brenda Spencer, 16, fired a 22 cal. rifle repeatedly at Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, killing 2 and injuring 8 children plus one police officer. When asked why she did that by authorities, she replied, "I don't like Mondays."
Social failures when added to gun liberties in the States make disasters followed by headline news around the world. It is conceivable that gun control could limit the harm caused by fuse blowouts like this. Many go further than this and argue there is a direct relationship between gun and crime. On the other side of the spectrum, there are people who argue back gun doesn't kill people; people kill people.
Canada has approximately the same amount of guns per capita as the United States. In the mean time, Canada's gun related crime rate is not specifically different than the rest of the industrialized world.
There are more than 2 million firearms in Switzerland for a population of 6 million. As a matter of fact the Swiss government encourages male citizens to keep firearm and even sells off surplus weaponry to the public when new equipment is introduced to the military. Switzerland has a unique system of national defense based on conscription that covers most of the population for most of their lives.
Even in the United States a regional breakdown of gun related crimes reveals that not all the states live up to the violence-ridden reputation.
New York and Washington, D.C., have the strictest gun control laws in America. Handguns are banned totally in Washington, D.C., the toughest restriction anywhere. New York's crime rate went down, but not until Guiliani put more police on the street and eased rules restricting them. Washington, D.C., is labeled the murder capital of the United States from time to time. In contrast to New York and Washington, D.C., Texas and Florida recently adopted more relaxed conceal-and-carry gun permit laws.
Drugs and urban deprivation are generally singled out as two major reasons for crime in general. Add gun to the picture and you will get the statistics on crimes in Detroit, MI, or Washington, D.C.
But what about Brenda who wanted to shut down the school for one day? As the song goes on:
"And he can see no reason"
"Cos there are no reasons"
"What reasons do you need to be shown"

Bottom line it seems that guns, tools designed to fire small particles with high velocity, don't kill people by themselves. "People kill people", a friend once said in an irony, "So stop selling them to people. Sell them to ... cows."

P.S. Any chronical similarity between the title and the day this entry was posted is merely coincidental.

Sunday, February 02, 2003
Pointless sunflower seed note

I remember, back in Iran, sunflower and pumpkin seeds were very popular and nation's love affair with the seeds seemed to be endless ... also its origin was vague. Cracking them was a sidekick to any passive leisure from chitchatting to watching movies. Calling them snack would not exactly reflect their pivotal role in making an inactive pastime more fun. I also remember in theaters when movies went mute for a few seconds to display an eerie silence, you would hear crackling sounds coming from all over the dark space that would remind you of a certain scene from Hichcock's thriller, The Birds. Audience would love to crack seeds while watching the movie. And when the movie ended and lights came back on again, you would see a layer of garbage shells covering the floor like carpet. But that was many years ago before people started coming out of theaters with cups, nylon bags, or fists full of empty shells looking for the first available dustbin. As an inexperienced young man, and because of its seemingly deep root in the society, it was natural of me to think this addiction was Iranian or at least Middle Eastern.
My first encounter with the seeds in Canada was the neatly wrapped sunflower kernels in big fruit stores. You don't even have to crack the shell open. But it does not feel the same without the cracking sound plus you usually end up having more of the fattening seeds. Later on I found out that some drug stores carry salted and roasted seeds in small packs with the exact same taste as in the old country. There are also new barbecue flavor that are harder to find. You are supposed to suck on the shell in your mouth first before attempting to crack it open. I also learned that the seeds are big at ball games and serve as a big magnet for seagulls that lurk at ball parks for games to end. Then they dive down to collect leftover seeds.
But how did the practice of eating sunflower seeds originate? The natives in America were making use of the seeds as far back as 2,000 years ago. Then Spanish brought sunflowers home in the 1500s. Though the seeds became especially popular in Eastern Europe, Americans had little use for them. Ironically, it was Russian immigrants who first reintroduced the seeds to Americans in the late 19th century. Although I couldn't find any link between Russia and Iran's love for the seeds, one would assume that Russia's proximity to Iran makes the link less than obscure.

Too much news?

US is the biggest single newsmaker country in the whole world. If this is not completely true, it won't be that far away from the truth. There is hardly a day passing without a US related news making the world's headlines. It is partly due to the news-making nature of this huge country and partly due to America's powerful media with its big news output.
A vast developed country would constantly make events. And that is what America does. US is at the cutting edge of technology and its economy is the largest in the world. There is a lot of news coming out of the country on those fronts. Social failures combined with tolerant gun laws also serve a source for news.
You couldn't simply get enough of the domestic news in the States. If it is not a scandal, it will be a politician's speech that draws public attention. If there is neither of them, then US media kicks in to fill the dead air. They are quick to make up questions like what Jesus would drive if he was alive today when the topic of SUV and its impact on environment is hot or elaborate the angel of a shot in a local murder case.
Every piece of news is so expanded with all kinds of technical details that being a news savvy involves quitting one's job and hooking up to a major news channel 24/7. That is of course an exaggeration to give the impression.
Historical isolationist character associated to the Americans aside, the two mentioned facts do not seem to help sliming down the stereotype of ignorant American. Even though an average American appears to be knowledgeable enough about the background of internal events, in order to have a grasp on what goes on outside his or her borders, he or she still has a big gap to fill. This seems to be crucial as the policies of America's elected leaders by Americans are so influential in the world.