Converging the week: Terrorism, Justin Trudeau, and Jane Austen
Flickr photo (cc) by Rebecca_Hildreth
Terrorism continues to be on the minds of North Americans this week – north and south of the border. First there was the Boston Marathon bombing last week, and this week there was the foiled plot to derail a VIA train in Toronto. Terrorism, for whatever reason, invokes a certain level of fear that other much more dangerous risks do not seem capable of reaching. Boston, for example, was essentially shut down for an entire day as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, was a fugitive on the lose. In the Guardian, Michael Cohen asks a very logical question about America’s fear of terrorism after the most recent episode in Boston: Why does America lose its head over ‘terror’ but ignore its daily gun deaths? Because, as Cohen notes, more than 30,000 Americans die as a result of gun violence every year, compared to the 17 who died last year in terrorist attacks. And on the same day as the marathon bombing in Boston, which took the lives of 3 individuals, 11 Americans were murdered by guns. Yet despite these numbers, Americans seem to invest much more energy into staving off terrorist attacks than they do into ridding gun violence, because just this past week the US Senate blocked a gun control bill that would have strengthened background checks for potential gun buyers. As Cohen cheekily (and accurately) observed,
“Americans seemingly place an inordinate fear on violence that is random and unexplainable and can be blamed on “others” – jihadists, terrorists, evil-doers etc. But the lurking dangers all around us – the guns, our unhealthy diets, the workplaces that kill 14 Americans every single day – these are just accepted as part of life, the price of freedom, if you will. And so the violence goes, with more Americans dying preventable deaths. But hey, look on the bright side – we got those sons of bitches who blew up the marathon.”
However, the recent terrorist attacks invoked more than just fear, they also invoked a time of collective mourning. It is in these times of collective mourning that we are also reminded of our collective differences because in order to mourn together, to live in solidarity with people of other faiths against the evils of this world, it is necessary to respect the views of those faiths. The upshot of this is that it creates a civil religion, a religion of common language, that acts “as if God did not exist,” as sociologist Peter Berger recently pointed out. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just the reality of living in a secular society that wishes to separate church and state. As a result, the secular public square demands a common language or a “secular discourse” that essentially plays to the lowest common religious denominator, which unfortunately, is one that assumes that religion is bad and God does not exist. However, in times of collective mourning, Berger points out that established churches “become the official mourners of the nation, even though only a minority of citizens worship in their services.” The trick is to get people coming to church when it is not a time of collective mourning.
Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn New York thinks that the trick is to market Jesus as the “original hipster.” In explaining this new Jesus hipster ad campaign in Brooklyn, Monsignor Kieran Harrington, spokesman for the Brooklyn diocese, said, “It doesn’t seem to me so far-fetched that the representation of Christ would be a hipster… Jesus stood in contrast to the culture of his day. That’s what a lot of hipsters do too.” Oh dear. Suddenly I fear that I am not counter-culturally cool enough anymore to follow Jesus. Moving on.
To return to the recent terrorist attack in Boston, the newly selected Canadian Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, has gotten himself into some hot water about the way he responded to the bombing in Boston. Instead of extending sympathy over the atrocity that occurred, Trudeau had this to say within 24hrs of the bombing:
“We have to look at the root causes. Now, we don’t know now if it was terrorism or a single crazy or a domestic issue or a foreign issue.
But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded, completely at war with innocents, at war with a society.”
At first glance it might not seem so bad. He was, in many ways, saying what many people were thinking. The problem is that he didn’t realize that politicians aren’t supposed to say what people are thinking. And more than that, upon closer review, what he said was both conjecture and just plain wrong. David Frum from The Daily Beast had fun (it seems) raking Trudeau over the coals of political punditry:
“In Justin Trudeau’s comments on the Boston attack, we see a worrying formula: first, emphatic certainty (“there is no question”), expressed (as Andrew notes) vaguely and incoherently, all in service of an idea that is objectively wrong. Overconfident and mistaken: that is not the stuff of which successful prime ministers are made.”
Another interesting result of terrorism is that we tend to see a terrorist in everyone. Sometimes it seems that the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon – where you find an obscure thing everywhere you look, like when Catholics see the Virgin Mary in everything or when Justin Bieber sees himself in everything – is rampant. Well, this is what I thought Michael Chwe, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, was doing when I first heard about his theory in the New York Times that Jane Austen was one of the first – maybe the first – game theorist. Yes, game theorist. Jane Austen as the new intelligence to fight terrorism? Well, not quite, but what Michael Chwe has to say is interesting nonetheless. Game theory is simply trying to understand human interactions as a series of moves and countermoves aimed at maximizing payoff, and there are few more adept at understanding human behaviour than Jane Austen. Is Michael Chwe’s claim about Jane Austen and game theory substantial? Probably, he seems much smarter than me, but this is just one more example of Jane Austen’s continuing relevance in contemporary society.
Need another example? How about Alan Jacobs’ recent critique of the HBO show Girls with the help of Jane Austen? Jacobs’ basic thesis is that the show Girls is emblematic of a society that has lost any notion of moral virtue. Girls, for example, is a show that follows a premise articulated by Woody Allen a number of years ago: “The heart wants what it wants.” There is no perversion or wrong as long as the heart wants it. In such a world, Jacobs’ says, “there is nothing for me to say.” The world of Girls is so different from the world of Austen that it is simply “incommensurable” for someone from Austen’s world to speak the moral language of someone from the Girls’ world. We “confront a linguistically unbridgeable gap.” So then, what can we do when we speak a different moral language from those we want to give moral instruction to? Here is what Jacobs’, in quoting Paul Griffiths, has to say on the matter:
Griffiths again: “What the pagans need on this matter is conversion, not argument; and what the Church ought do to encourage that is to burnish the practice of marriage by Catholics until its radiance dazzles the pagan eye.” Griffiths is encouraging here an engagement with the affections, an appeal not to diminish false or disordered desires but to increase in the love of the right ones.
To appeal to the affections of a world that is secular and violent and fearful with a world that dazzles is, I think, a good way to move forward. Not an easy way, but a good way.
Everybody Listen! // La Liberte
“True Confession Tuesday”…how’s that for a catchy subheading? Anyway, that’s what you’re getting today, because I have a true confession to make. And, like a Peter Jackson movie, it comes in multiple parts.
Part 1: I am not cool. I regard Radiohead with caution. I tolerate the Album Leaf. I actively dislike Sigur Ros. If ever I arrive at the party, it’s long after the cool kids have moved on.
Part 2: Unless it’s classical or jazz, I’m generally suspicious of music without words. Mainly because I don’t know how to talk about it.
Part 3: I don’t know how to talk about music, in general, beyond the “it makes me feel this way” level that any sweaty preteen can achieve.
So it’s with some conflict of soul that I confess my weird affinity for the quirky ambient tunes of La Liberte.
If you like Sigur Ros, Album Leaf, or even Radiohead, you will undoubtedly like this music. If you don’t like those fellers, you will probably find yourself questioning everything you know about yourself as you make your way through track after track of “The Tide.”
Don’t be afraid.
Download “The Tide” on Noisetrade
If you visit his site, you’ll find his ear is all over the place. “Lessons in Italian Cherries” is all acoustic, and very traditional-sounding. His score for the short film promoting “Frankie” magazine is constructed on the spindly tones of a toy piano.
The tracks selected for “The Tide” are a lot more complex. The record is a weird, intriguing amalgam of acoustic and electronic music, texture-rich like a woven blanket, shimmery like theatrical silk, with gauzy vocals and rhythms that invite purposeful introspection.
Sorry–I know I’m being vague. Like I said, I don’t really know how to talk about this music. But I wanted to, because I want you to hear it.
I suspect that La Liberte likes Sigur Ros, but since I don’t, I’ll go ahead and say that what distinguishes these songs is that they don’t merely set a mood. They go somewhere. And they don’t make you feel like a self-conscious stargazer for following them in your imagination.
Perhaps what I like best of all about La Liberte’s take on this genre is that it’s not over-serious. He reminds me a little bit of an artist I do like–Yann Tiersen–whose wordless tunes also convey a richly unpredictable story. The sense of humor inherent in his unconventional instruments and sharp left turns in melody make this music sound like more than a synthesizer with a head cold.
And like Takenobu–another ambient artist I can get behind–there’s a sad knowingness underneath it all that makes it feel like more than just visions, that anchors it in reality. I think that’s what lifts it beyond evocative to being actually powerful.
Download “The Tide” by La Liberte.
Listen to more of his music.
Visit his website.
Got a hot tip on some free music? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Top Ten News Stories of 2012
Ah, the proverbial year in review top ten list. Forever a trademark of this time of year. I love these lists for one main reason: they cure me of my cultural ignorance while not making me feel guilty that I was ignorant in the first place. You see, news is important; we need people reporting and interpreting the events that happen around us. But at the same time, news is unimportant; the vast majority of news is irrelevant to the vast majority of people. The world will continue to chug along whether you know about it or not.
Take Will and Kate’s baby announcement as an example. This event is (somewhat) news worthy and (apparently) important to many people, but for most of us, being informed about Kate’s morning sickness is more about being ‘in the loop’ than it is about the relevance this has to our lives. Will and Kate’s baby announcement is not news to because it is important; it is news because we want it to be important.
In many ways, that is the way the news should be; we should learn about the things people think are important because, you know what, most of the time it is important. However, should you feel guilty if you were not ‘in the loop’ on stories that other people deem important? Of course not; no one can know everything. But if you did feel guilty, you always have the annual top ten year in review lists to keep you (barely) in the loop.
So without further ado, and in no particular order, here is my list of the stories that you should be aware of before we enter a new year of stories that we can once again be blissfully ignorant about.
U.S. Presidential Election:
The 2012 U.S. Presidential Election was one event I am sure very few were ignorant of, even if most people would have preferred to be ignorant of it. The election was billed as a battle of ideologies between the Democrats and the Republicans, but it actually turned out to be more of a battle of technology and demographics. Obama did not win with the unabashed optimism of his first campaign; no, he won in large part because his tech-savy campaign team and the shifting demographics of the American electorate. However, ultimately this election was just another example outrageous money spending because apparently more than $US6 billion was spent on the 2012 election campaigns. Yikes.
Highs and Lows:
2012 was most certainly a year of highs and lows. On the high note, Felix Baumgartner, voted National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year, made history by performing the highest skydive ever. Baumgartner jumped from a balloon 39km above the Earth’s surface and reached a top speed of 1342 km/h, becoming the first person to exceed the speed of sound in free fall.
On the low note, the famous Canadian film-maker James Cameron became the first person to reach Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, on a solo mission. Cameron completed the feat in the “Deepsea Challenger” submersible and spent more than three hours exploring the ocean floor collecting samples for scientific research and footage for a 3D film of the journey. No word on whether the expedition made Cameron feel like he was the “King of the Ocean.”
Israel and Gaza:
The most recent conflict in November between Israel and Gaza represents a long and deep-seated quarrel in the Middle East. While they were thankfully able to agree to a cease-fire before Israel invaded Gaza on the ground, the tensions and politics still remain. Analysts say that the November conflict was a “qualified victory” for current Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it also resulted in an “emboldened” and strengthened Hamas group. Another important point moving forward is the role that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi played in the cease-fire negotiations. Morsi proved that he had the leverage to bring Hamas to the negotiating table to help facilitate a ceasefire, which no doubt signals a shift in the balance of power in the Middle East that will certainly influence peace negotiations in the future.
To stay in the Middle East, the ongoing conflict in Syria has unfortunately been one of the most devastating stories of the year. The conflict or the popular pro-democratic uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, erupted in March 2011 in connection with the Arab Spring after some the government opened fire and killed several demonstrators who were protesting the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. The conflict continued to escalate, prompting the UN to get involved in 2012. Current estimates say that more than 40,000 people have died in the conflicts, and approximately 400,000 Syrians who have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, and a further 2.5 million have been internally displaced within Syria. The UN projects that up to 4 million people inside Syria will need humanitarian aid by early next year.
London Summer Olympics:
The London Summer Olympics were one of my favorite events of the year. There were opening ceremony cameos by Mr. Bean, David Beckham, James Bond, and the Queen herself; there were heroes (Oscar Pistorius, Christine Sinclair, Andy Murray); there were legends (Usain Bolt; Bradley Wiggins); there were newcomers (Gabby Douglas; Missy Franklin); there were rivalries (Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte); there were surprises (Rosie MacLennan); and there was heartbreak (Paula Findlay; Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang). What more do you want from an international sporting event?
Of course, Mr. Gangnam himself will find his way onto any 2012 year in review list. PSY, the stout 31 year old Korean pop-star, literally invaded the rest of the world, appearing at numerous award shows around the world and even performing at half-time of the most recent NFL game between the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks in Toronto. Psy’s famous song “Gangnam Style” passed Justin Beiber’s “Baby” as the most watch video of all time in November. Currently, Psy’s famous video has been watched almost 1 billion times. Amazingly, or disturbingly, that is not a typo.
New York Magazine’s cover after the Sandy hurricane was straight out of a movie. Almost half of the island of Manhattan was eerily dark because of a loss of power. The contrast was striking, but so were the effects of the hurricane. It is estimated that hurricane Sandy cost $62 billion dollars in damages and lost business, but more than the money, the hurricane also resulted in over 200 deaths with approximately 71 deaths occurring in the Caribbean.
Bullying has long been a problem for kids, but in the last few years it has become much more serious than a problem that kids will simply grow out of. Amanda Todd, the Port Coquitlam B.C. teenager, was bullied physically and online until she decided to take her own life on October 10, 2012. Amanda’s suicide received international attention because it illustrated the devastating effect of social media and online bullying. In response to her death, new initiatives have been launched to support anti-bullying research and programs so that these tragedies can be prevented in the future.
Does anyone even know what is going on with the NHL lockout anymore? Does anyone even care? It is hard to tell, but the NHL certainly hasn’t done itself any favours by stubbornly pushing for a lockout after a few strong seasons. Hockey is a business, we know, but unfortunately it appears that in pursuing this business the NHL is pushing its fans away. I don’t know when NHL hockey will be back, but unfortunately I care less everyday.
2012 will be remembered for many things, but the lasting image may unfortunately be the school shooting in Newtown Connecticut that left 28 people dead, 20 of them being under the age of 7. The terrible part is that although the Newtown shooting was the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, it was not the only unprovoked mass killing of the year. Shockingly, the U.S. suffers on average 20 mass shootings a year, and the Aurora Colorado movie theatre shooting that killed 12 people will be remembered for a long time to come because it was intimately connected with one of America’s favorite violent movies, The Dark Knight Rises, in one of America’s cultural cathedrals, the movie theatre. Debate over gun violence in the U.S. has now reached an all-time high with President Obama calling for needed reform. One can only hope that change will come so that we do not have to read about similar stories in the years to come.
Facebook IPO, Lance Armstrong, David Petraeus, Justin Trudeau, Costa Concordia crash, Quebec student protests, Mars landing, and Rob Ford.
N. Korea fails to keep promise, US suspends food aid
Because of Pyongyang’s planned rocket launch next month, the US has been “forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance to North Korea,” said Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs. The US had sent food aid under the agreement to suspend uranium enrichment, nuclear and long range missile tests.
Kony, Jason Russell, and Bad Press
With all the events surrounding the charity Invisible Children the past couple weeks, I am beginning to think that all press is not necessarily good press. Sometimes bad press is just bad press.
The press, after all, was the horse that Invisible Children gallantly rode on in their quest for relevance. With the advent of social media outlets like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, the press is no longer a mysterious propagandist force directing public opinion. It has become a shared platform where anyone from anywhere can shape public opinion. The trick is getting the public to listen.
Invisible Children certainly figured out the trick to get the public to listen in their latest 30min YouTube video “Kony2012”, written and directed by Jason Russell. Russell, one of the co-founders of Invisible Children, proposes a fascinating thesis in the video: that public opinion can enact social change. This thesis, on the surface, is neither surprising nor new. Democratic societies are built on the shape of public opinion and independent groups have been trying to shape that opinion for centuries. What is interesting and unique with “Kony2012” is not that Invisible Children have turned to public opinion for social change, but that they have turned to social media for public opinion.
This approach has impacted the mission of the charity on 3 levels. The first level is that Invisible Children have successfully used social media to make Joseph Kony, a war criminal and the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa, famous. The film utilizes powerful stories of serious injustices through savvy filmmaking to make “Kony2012” the largest and fastest growing viral campaign in history. As of March 20th, only 15 days after it was first posted, the film has received over 100 million views on YouTube and Vimeo and succeeded in making Joseph Kony famous far before the campaign’s poster blitz date of April 20th 2012.
The second level is that increased exposure has also brought increased scrutiny. This scrutiny is not necessarily a bad thing since it encourages accountability and has helped to promote the film. However, despite increased exposure, it is on this second level that I begin to question whether all press is truly good press for Invisible Children. For example, Invisible Children’s reputation as a charity may be seriously damaged in North America and in Africa as a result of “Kony2012.” One common thread through all of the criticisms is that the campaign carries a “White Savior” or “Hero” complex that is characteristic of the privileged West.
The legitimacy of a hero complex argument is, of course, a matter of debate as our knowledge of the impact of social media campaigns is still in its infancy, but the simple fact that Ugandans and other Africans have reacted so negatively to the “white man’s burden” slant of “Kony2012” (See M.G. Vassanji) should cause some pause and force us to think not just about what we are trying to accomplish, but also about how we are trying to accomplish it. Even Ugandan Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, has been tweeting with the tag #KonyisntinUganda and he recently posted a video to YouTube denouncing “Kony2012” saying, “We do not need a slick video on YouTube for us to take notice.” In their effort to solve the problems in central Africa, Invisible Children seem to have forgotten about the people they are solving the problems for.
This brings us to the “hero” and director Jason Russell and the third level in which Invisible Children’s embrace of social media has impacted their mission. In recent days, Russell, because of his efforts to help solve central Africa’s Kony problem, has sadly found himself to be the victim of the press instead of the hero in the press. Late last week San Diego police detained Russell after he was running naked in the street, yelling, pounding his fists in the pavement, and disturbing traffic. Before “Kony2012,” this episode wouldn’t have even made local news, but after “Kony2012”, this episode is international news precisely because it is bad press and perfect fodder for those who love to see our cultural heroes fall.
Is it fair? Not at all. But is it inevitable? In this age of social media, I am afraid so. Jason Russell and Invisible Children serve as a powerful reminder that no one is immune to bad press and cruel public opinion. Despite their good intentions and powerful message, Invisible Children have fallen victim to a tidal wave of bad press.
But, we must remember that the story doesn’t have to end with bad press. Invisible Children and Jason Russell do not have to be defined by public opinion resulting from the events of the last few weeks. Here, I share the sentiments of Ford Vox, a brain injury physician and journalist at The Atlantic, when he says, “I do hope Russell will choose to share his story. Perhaps he could help improve public sensitivity about brain diseases as much as he’s hoped to increase public awareness of Joseph Kony.” Whether Russell suffers from a brain disease remains to be seen, but I appreciate Vox’s thoughtful and caring take on the matter and his denouncement of bad press towards an individual that is not deserving of it.
So, depending how Russell chooses to respond, the bad press surrounding his recent behaviour doesn’t have to remain bad press. Russell has a story to tell, whether it is about social injustice in Africa or neglected brain diseases in America, and I hope he uses his platform and decides tell it.
If he does, the real question becomes whether the media be willing to tell it. Again I hope so, because, after all, we are all part of the media now, aren’t we?
The perfect score: 2012 X Games
History was made when snow master Shaun White scored a perfect 100 in the Superpipe at the 2012 X Games. Watch the video after the jump! Read More
Casey Anthony: Guilty
The guilty verdict of Casey Anthony has been long awaited by many. The story that Casey, a young mother single mother, had allegedly murdered her two year-old daughter Caylee made headlines.
Read the full article here on CanadianChristianity.com
World Water Day
Today is World Water Day.
Nearly 1 billion people are without clean, safe drinking water.
It’s a sobering fact to face when you are just about to flush down Bubbles, your late goldfish, or that scary spider smushed up in a tissue. One flush to rid yourself of these common day bugs or to send off your beloved aquarium friend uses up at least 20 liters of good, clean water. How is it that 55% of Canadians believe fresh water is our country’s most important natural recourse, yet we can use it so carelessly? We are surrounded by beautiful lakes, crisp mountain run-off and of course, the infamous
Raincouver Vancouver rain. What we don’t see everyday are the women of developing countries walking several kilometers every day to fetch 10-20 litres of water. This is to last the average person the whole day.
Bubbles the goldfish was just flushed away with a whole day’s worth of water.
So what can we do to save water? Super easy. The first step to take is knowing how much water you use in the first place. Canadians use about 329 liters of water a day.
Most of our water goes down the toilet so please keep this saying in mind the next time you take to your restroom: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” It’s easier to get over the grossness of the idea if you live alone. With family, it may take a while, but it is possible. With roommates it may take a lot of convincing.
In the summer, 17% of Canadians hose down their driveways. Why? And to those who love that lush green front lawn? Sacrifice. Chances are that you’re not going to enjoy that grass while you can be in the comforts of your air conditioned home. When are you going to roll around on the grass or make grass angels and go chasing for grasshoppers?
Teeth brushers and dishwashers: turn the tap off. Turn it back on only when you need to run something under the water.
And last but not least, minimize shower time. An average shower uses about 160 liters of water! I’m still working on mine being under 15 minutes. 8 minutes is my personal all-time record!)
So good luck! It’s not breaking news that we all use too much water, but we do need a little reminder now and then. Let’s try to save water!