Sunday, August 31, 2008

Prominent Newfoundland Historian & Personal Influence Passes Away

Dr. Leslie Harris passed away August 26th, 2008. While he may be a relative unknown person to some people, he has greatly influenced my university career. I was not always a history major, as I dabbled in other departments before I settled on history. Reading articles written by Dr. Leslie Harris not only made me want to be able to do that some day, but his writing has also influenced the way I perceive Newfoundland history. Late in my Undergraduate career, in researching for my dissertation, I have used Dr. Harris' articles as a background to my topic. I never knew Dr. Harris personally, but I am sure he was well loved by all that knew him.

Not only has he influenced me, but his legacy at Memorial University of Newfoundland will never be forgotten. He was the head of the History Department, President, and even has a centre within the university named after him.

He will be greatly missed, but will live on through his legacy, and for me, through his articles.

DR. LESLIE HARRIS: October 24th, 1929 - August 26th, 2008
(see his official obituary here)

Inciting Change: Mass Protest Is The Way To Go

What incites political change? Public outrage key issues usually has something to do with it. But, that is usually not enough to cause politicians to flinch over changing their policies. Invisible public outrage, that is, when opposing opinions are held but not voiced, tend not to provoke government officials to do anything. It is only when people with a common goal are united under a cause that they become noticed, and then, and only then can change become a possibility.

On August 30th, 150 000 protesters marched through the streets throughout Mexico. The marchers were protesting the rising number of murders and kidnappings in the country. The main purpose of the march was to force President Felipe Calderon to crackdown on the increasing criminal activity.

It is unsure whether this protest will cause the President to scramble to please the public, but if the South Korean protest over U.S. beef is any indication, then at least SOME action should be taken in Mexico considering the South Korean government was willing to resign over the beef controversy.

In Canada, I hate to say it, but we hardly have any massive protests. For the most part, the only media covered protests we have are when G8 conferences are held here. I think if we had massive protests for a common cause we'd get more out of our governmental officials. If they can physically see with their own eyes that people are 'together' on an issue, they will almost surely have to take some action to alleviate the problem(s).

"Seeing is believing," and that is something we really lack. The only way that politicians make changes is when they are forced into doing so. They were elected by us, and unless we come right out and voice our opinions nothing is going to change. Now, while I am pushing for massive protests as a way to get our voices heard, there are also other avenues to explore. For instance, making petitions, writing to , and etc. The only caution about large protests is that they are best done peacefully. When violence enters the equation, that is when the focus gets taken away from the issues that started the protest and is put on the violent actions.

If Mexicans and South Koreans can unite under a just cause, there is no reason why everyone else cannot. While I state that Canada needs to unite under a common issue, I think the U.S. is in more need of this same sort of objection to their government (ie: the Iraq War, protecting their personal rights, Guantanamo Bay prison rights, overseas foreign policy, the economy, etc.) What do you think?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Russian-Georigan Conflict: Behind The Scenes

I have no doubt that most people have heard about the Russian invasion of Georgia. The 'official' reason for the Russian invasion has been said to help South Ossetia (a state that recently split away from Georgia, and which would like to join Russia) repel Georgian forces who invaded to take back control of the area.

The part that has garnered much international attention to be focused on Russia is that even though there has been a ceasefire negotiated between Georiga and Russia, Russian forces are not evacuating Georgian territory, instead they are increasing their presence under the guise of peace-keeping. I think that Russia's official reasons for invading Georgia are a clever excuse. Russia is a semi-major influence on the Asian continent, and what do most powers want to do? They want to retain the equilibrium of power on the continent. It has been this way since even before World War II.

If you carefully take a look at a map of the Middle East you will notice some interesting things.

What I notice when I look at this map is that Iraq and Iran are very close to Georgia. Internationally Iran is now viewed as a loose-canon, to say the least, but even more importantly U.S. controlled Iraq is very close to Georgia. As far back as the days of the British Colonial Empire, major powers have wanted to keep other major powers at a distance (if at all possible). I see this as a possible reason why Russia has decided now to invade Georgia. If Russia controls the Georgian state then they have a buffer between themselves, Iraq and Iran.

Another important aspect to look at is the fact that a major gas-pipeline runs through Georgia. If you take a close look at this map, and then take a look at an excellent article by Michael Economides' on Energy Tribune, you will notice that an important pipeline that runs through Georgia. The scramble for oil is well on its way, and Russia is most certainly not being left behind in the dust.

Although, there can be no definitive answer to the question: Why did Russia invade Georgia? The evidence is leaning towards protection and oil as the incentives. With Russian-U.S. relations at a relative low over the Polish agreement, and Georgia being a 'roadblock' to Russian oil production expansion, it seems very plausible that this invasion was not over nationalism.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Stress Relief

I have just finished the second draft of my major research paper, and now my brain is certifiable mush. To relieve the wear and tear on my brain, I decided to play some mindless-online gaming, but I came across an interesting puzzle game called Fantastic Contraption.

This game lets you build (sometimes crazy looking) machines. These 'contraptions' are used to move the 'pink gamepiece' from the white start zone to the pink finish-area. Some of the beginning levels are easy to finish, while the later ones are very... well... complicated. If you need any encouragement to complete the harder levels or some enlightenment check out youtube. There are various videos of people's creations. Some are fantastic, while others are duds.

Here is my favourite contraption on Youtube:



So stop what you are doing for a little while, and build your own crazy contraption. Who cares if it works, it's just for fun. I've built some interesting machines that have went nowhere, but it made me laugh just looking at it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

How Would You Like Your News? Filtered Or Non-Filtered?

I've been pretty interested in oil prices recently and the way oil refining companies have been charging whatever they want for gasoline, but when I came across a story about an abundance of oil in Iraq I was intrigued. I found the article on Forbes.com, but I noticed that it had originally been reported by Reuters. So, with my ever-curious spirit, I looked up the article over on Reuters.com and found something interesting.


The article on Forbes reads like this:



The Reuters article reads like this:


What you will find in comparing the two articles is that the Forbes article takes some creative licensing, and cuts out the last section of the original article. In the last part of the Reuters' article an oil deal with China is discussed, and then it states:

Foreign oil companies are keen to get access to Iraq's vast and largely untapped oil reserves, but high world prices are allowing Baghdad to drive a hard bargain.


It is almost as if the Forbes article purposely leaves this fact out of the supposed reprint of the article. Why would this information be left out? What agenda is Forbes trying to push? Personally, I do not think it was a mistake, and my gut instinct tells me that Forbes doesn't want the fact that a deal with China is being made and the fact that the Iraqi oversupply will give Iraq (and I am thinking most likely the US) an upperhand in the market.

As Seth Godin states, the news is not written to inform the public, it is written to sell newspapers or create controversy. This seems true in this case, as Forbes does not provide the whole truth and the real story is provided through a filter which is imposed on the public.

The point of this story is not to defame Forbes, but to warn people about sources of information. You must always be critical of where you get your facts. There is always some sort of filter which is imposed on information, and it is imperative that the person knows how to pick out what is relevant and what is not (Also, more importantly you should be able to pick out if the information is credible, like in the Forbes-Reuters example I mention in this article).

Be Critical. Be Aware. These are two ideas to live by.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Academic Sidenote: Are Female Professors Viewed As Mother Figures?

Yet again there is another good article on CrookTimber entitled 'Herr Professor Daddy? I Didn't Think So,' which raises some interesting questions about how female professors are viewed compared to male professors.

The article states:

First of all, students demand much more emotional work from female professors than they do of male profs. If the women don’t provide it, they are often viewed as cold bitchy profs that don’t care about students. Although I don’t know of any systematic studies of what types of topics students bring up during interactions with professors by gender, I have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that female profs get approached much more by students wanting to talk about life issues than male profs.
I would argue that (and so does the first commenter on CrookTimber) that it all depends on the way the prof interacts with their students. If a prof portrays a personality that is more approachable I think that students will be more willing to approach them, despite their gender. I have had female professors that I have found approachable and unapproachable, and I have had male professors that were approachable and unapproachable.

If a professor answers students questions with respectability and offers themselves as a person that can relate to a student, they will be more likely to have students express 'issues' with them. While female profs can be viewed as 'mother-like figures' I believe that male professors can also be viewed in a similar way. Males and females can have personality traits that are very similar, and it is not gender so much as personality that can affect how students relate with professors.

The idea that you cannot mix caring and compassionate traits with academia is, in my opininon, an axiom that is accepted without actually being considered. I think it is just that people are very comfortable with academia being cold and uncaring, but does it really have to be that way? Can there not be a mix of the two? Educational teachers find a way to combine the both of these facets, why can't professors? (I do realize that 12 year olds are not the same as 20 year old university students) but some level of caring and compassion can be incorporated in teaching at a university level.

Update: I never realized when I was posting this article, but I made it seem like Eszter Hargittai, the author of the CrookTimber article, was arguing that female professors were seen as nurturers. Her article argues that women professors are not seen as authority figures. What I should have stated at the beginning of my article is that my posting is a response, not to Eszter's article, but to the debate that rises from the article comments. Thanks again for Eszter bringing it to my attention.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Texas Town Wants To Arm Teachers

A while back in April I wrote an article about the idea of allowing students to carry guns on campus. My personal opinion is that students should not be able to carry guns on campus because I think it will only increase violence on campus, not decrease it.

Well, a small town in Texas has ignored the problems of letting guns into an educational environment. click here for the video.

They are allowing teachers at a local school to be armed. The Superintendent stated that it was to protect students from 'psychopaths' that might enter the town through the highway. He argued that in the grizzly killings that are reported by the media they always start out with: "It was a small town where no one thought anything like this could happen..."

My opinion is that guns never solve violence problems. Did the Superintendent ever think that the story may now read: "local teacher accidentally fires weapon in classroom..." I do not believe in weapons of any kind being allowed in a learning environment, or an environment which is the home to children. The parents of the young people that attend school in this small town have to wonder which is more likely to happen: A psychotic killer entering the school, or an accident with a firearm?

Guns do not negate violence. In this situation you cannot really fight fire with fire. The lives of children are at stake here, it is not like guarding a convenience store in a hard neighbourhood, care must be taken with young people's lives.

Social Inhibitions: Bad or Good?

I remember when being someone that respected others actually meant something. What I mean is that lately, I find that people seem to negate obligations (yes I think it is necessary) to treat people like they would like to be treated.

I don't know if it is the way media influences people, but people in general seem to not care how they treat others, or stop to realize how their actions actually HAVE consequences.

When I was younger, I was told by my parents to always be courteous to others, and treat them like you would want to be treated. This stuck with me, and I always showed respect for others. I mean, I open doors for women (it's the way I grew up), and I try not to offend people when I am talking to them. It seems that now, people have grown up without these notions, and they do not respect others. They say what they want, do what they please, and do not consider anything inbetween. What happened here? (insert article on this)

Personally, I just think people think they are being 'cool' or 'try to fit in.' Usually they are influenced by each other, and where do you think this all comes from? I think it comes from the media. Most figures that you see on TV or whatnot do not care about other people's feelings, they say what they want (ie: House from House M.D., and Bam Margera from Jackass). I think it is now becoming commonplace to view these stars as role models, and people growing up think it is right to act this way.

If you think about it, people think they are being very clever when they act without boundaries, but if you think about it, they have already played into mass media. They are acting like they are being influenced to do so. People that show humility and respect others are viewed as 'uncool.' In reality, the people that show respect for others are much more free than those that are mindlessly following trendy-social constructs.

It is time that we really looked at our popular media and realized that it is not just 'there for our entertainment,' because 90% of the time we are either being sold something, or being influenced to act a certain way/view a certain perspective (ie: the blocking of Ralph Nader in the SuperDelegates Open Debate)

Sidenote: While I argue against 'no bounds' interraction between people in this article, that is not to say that I do not think people should speak their opinion. There is a thin line between voicing your opinion and mindlessly harassing another person. When the line is crossed, that in particular, is what my article deals with.

I also would like to say that I do not think violent games/violent movies cause people to act violenting. Accordingly, I do not think that TV stars such as 'House' or 'Bam Margera' directly cause people to act with inhibitions, BUT they give those people, which are easily influenced, an example of how it is beneficial.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fadel Shana's Tragic Death

There is a memorial to Fadel Shana, the tragically killed Reuters Cameraman, on Facebook.

There is also footage of the tank shell that killed him and eight others here. (warning: the video may contain graphic images)

I also urge people that want to see this sort of killing to end, to visit this site and sign the petition.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tragic Death of Journalist By Israeli Tank Shell "Was Sound" Decision, Says Israeli Official

A while back in June, I posted an article regarding the tragic death of a Reuter's Journalist in the Gaza Strip by IDF forces. I had also hoped that, even though Fadel Shana's death was an atrocity, it would cause Israeli soldiers to question their "shoot first, inquire later" attitudes. It seems that my positive thinking regarding this story was a little too optimistic.

In a recent article by Reuter's, the tank crew that killed the Journalist and eight other Palestinians from age 12 to 20, were cleared of any wrongdoing. The lawyer for the Israeli military dismissed the fact that Shana had been in the area all day using his camera, he was wearing a vest that said 'PRESS' on it, his van had similar markings, and he had been filming the tank crew for a few minutes at least. Israeli military officials stated that Shana's camera and tripod could not be discerned and were thought to be a mortar, anti-tank missile, or camera. They also could not identify that he was 'Press,' and said that the vest he was wearing were commonly used by Palestinian rebels.

I think that the tank crew's actions were deplorable and inexcusable. Using this tank crew's response as an example (since they did nothing wrong according to the Israeli military) the use of any camera equipment in Gaza, to me at least, seems to be lethal. If IDF forces cannot correctly identify a camera from a missile launcher, what is to say this will not happen again? I think Journalist's in conflict zones should be able to have more protection than what Shana was shown.

Joel Campagna, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, stated:
It's difficult to believe ... that the IDF took the necessary precautions to avoid causing harm to civilians -- as it is obliged to do under international law
I tend to agree with Campagna. If IDF forces were really concerned about the lives of people in Gaza, or Journalists, I think they would have shown a little more precaution. There is no place for trigger-happy soldiers in conflicts which concern combatants and civilians. There is no justification for Shana's death or the death of the eight other Palestinians.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Sine-Wave of Society

Has anyone noticed that in fashion (I know, you are probably asking yourself "why is he talking about fashion?" but don't worry I'll get to a point here) trends tend to follow a standard deviation pattern (like a sine-wave)? What I mean is that, for instance, now in 2008 the fashion trend for women is towards skin-tight clothing, skinny jeans, etc. etc. In the eighties and early nineties, clothing was much more loose fitting and baggy (Grungy).

The interesting point is that before the Grunge-Era, clothing in the seventies was very similar to what it is now. It seems that society follows a pattern in that department, and it is a pattern that shows societies boundaries. Clothing will never come to the point of everyone wearing nothing, and it will never go to the extreme of wearing 10 or more layers of clothing (for sheer heat control purposes).

It seems that society has certain extremes that it will not cross into. Society is limited by factors that we do not even perceive sometimes. Even though we would like to think of ourselves as free to do what we please, we have certain deviations from the norm that we will tolerate, but there is a limit. Beyond our limit are what we would classify as "different," or "unusual." Personally I do not see anything wrong with people that want to be different and act outside the norm, but others find it necessary to classify these people as "weird," and what-not.

For instance, a person that refuses to wear any clothing are called Nudists. They are beyond the cultural/societal norm, and are deemed as outside the realm of acceptability by society as a whole. That is not to say that some people are perfectly okay with them, but that in popular culture, and media they are portrayed as outcasts. The same can be said for people that dress in Gothic-style clothing.

But why are there limits to what is acceptable? We live in a free democratic world where everyone should be free to do what they want, without harming others, but we have these restrictions. Some imposed by laws (such as being nude in public), but others are just reinforced by our perceived notions (such as discriminating against Gothic people). It is definitely an interesting question that should be considered more carefully.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How Oil Companies Make Record Profits And Get What They Want With Lack Of... Well... Oil!

Warning: May Contain Comments Which Are Unproven and Purely Theoretical.

Oil Companies, Oil Suppliers, Oil Prices... they are all on the minds of almost everyone. Oil is used in every facet of society. The hamburger you just ate, or the T.V. you just bought were connected to oil in some way. Most commodities, foods, and services rely on transportation somewhere within the chain of events in between the creation of something and the consumer receiving it. So, since oil is so important the recent price increases have gotten us common folk (people who aren't heads of Oil Companies) in a frantic panic trying to cope with spending extra money on everything.

In recent news Exxon-Mobil's fourth-quarter profits were a record for the company (and an overall record of profits for any company... ever!). MSNBC states:

Exxon Mobil Corp. posted record profits for any U.S. company on Monday — $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter and $36.13 billion for the year — as the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company benefited from high oil and natural-gas prices and solid demand for refined products.

When I saw these numbers, I was plainly shocked. Personally I thought that due to the lack of oil in the WORLD gas prices had increased to astronomical prices, but according to Exxon-Mobil's Quarter profits that seems to be wrong. If oil reserves are low, and price is high, that makes sense to me because of 'supply and demand.' What doesn't make sense to me is that: if oil is low, to buy the crude oil is expensive, so gasoline prices in turn are expensive, but this should even out so that the company refining the oil should make similar profits to what they made before crude oil was expensive. I think that is very logical thinking.

So why is it that Exxon-Mobil has made the largest profit of any company ever? Well in a New York Times article, Kenneth Cohen, an Exxon Vice President stated:

oil companies needed the profits to search for more oil and gas. He also challenged Congress to open up waters in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic
and Pacific coasts to drilling, as well as other federal lands where drilling is prohibited.
Well, well Mr. Cohen. Exxon needs the profits to search for more oil, even though they already hold oilfields in the Angola, the United Arab Emirates (which I have already blogged about having an abundant oil supply), Kazakhstan (which, in 2006, had 13 billion barrels of reserve oil), Libya, and Venezuela. These areas are not little fields that are running dry, they are some of the biggest oil producing areas in the world. What is Exxon's goal here?

Let us turn to the second part of Mr. Cohen's statement: opening up the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to drilling. I believe there lies our goal. Exxon-Mobil and other large oil companies have concessions to drill oil all over the world. They are producers and refiners of the world's oil/gasoline supply. So how do you get what you want in the 'Oil' world? You tell everyone there is a shortage, jack up the prices, and then tell governments you need to drill in new areas. That way you gain more profits, because you have your original oilfields, and new ones. Governments are worried about shortages, because oil runs everything, so they give in to demands. Thus, the profits that Exxon has recently published will be a sign of things to come if the oil companies get their own way.

There is one thing I just don't believe in business and that is when one group controls demand and supply, to me that just isn't playing by the rules.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mystery Makes The Movie: The Dark Knight Review

Now that The Dark Knight is a few weeks old and most critics have either called it a masterpiece or garbage, I think it is a good time to review the movie again. The movie has had time to saturate into the minds of the public, and most people have already seen it, so how did the movie do?

The Guardian reports that the Dark Knight (DK) may overtake 'The Titanic' (which grossed 600 million) but that is probably unlikely (but not totally dismissible). Right now DK is set to gross 380 million dollars by the time it leaves theatres, which would place it smack-dab in the top ten movies of all time. But why is it such a popular movie?

The first Christopher Nolan adaptation of the Batman franchise, Batman Begins, was a fairly good movie but the story was similar to a teaser. It introduced the 'new' Batman and we got to see how Batman became... Batman. The villains were rather shallow, although they were portrayed rather well, but they lacked something the audience could latch onto. DK changed all this.

What makes people want to see The Dark Knight one, two and even three times? What makes it so successful? I will tell you what I think it is. DK shows a developed Batman character. We know his parameters, and what he is all about. We know that he doesn't kill villains because he believes in justice. We think we know that the villain is someone who is trying to accomplish some greater goal (like obtaining money, revenge, etc.). We know that the good guy is going to win, and the bad guy is going to lose.

What DK does is turn those notions on their head. The Joker is the epitome of the arch-villain. He is not trying to rob a bank, he is not trying to seek revenge, he is not trying to kill Batman, he just purely wants to create chaos and destruction. He wants to kill for the sake of killing, and expose the worst in people. What makes this movie so good is the fact that Batman has to fight a villain that is simple, yet complex at the same time. He is simple in the fact that all he wants to do is cause mindless destruction and chaos. He is complex in the fact that we know almost nothing about him, and he must be above-average intelligent to think of the plans he does.

The Joker creates an air of mystery, which also makes the movie great. When he kills someone in the movie you don't see it. It may happen in an instant (like with the pencil), or happen off-camera. His life is also a mystery because we know nothing about how he became to be so evil, why he has those scars, and who is real identity is. In one scene he edges on a cop to attack him while in the interrogation room, where he is lying on the floor after being beat up by Batman. In the next scene he comes out of the room with a knife to the cop's throat and we do not know how he overpowered the policeman. Things like this make the movie so addictive. It is just like in older black and white films where the scariest things were left up the imagination. That is what the Joker is in this movie, a ghost, he is there... but not really. He is almost pure evil.

It is Batman who must face this pure evil. All the Joker needs is gasoline and dynamite and he can cause the city to crumble (or so he believes). While the city of Gotham stands after the onslaught by the Joker, we find that Batman has been reduced to the scapegoat of the city's problems. Batman becomes the pinnacle of good because he does what is needed of him, and that is whatever is needed to save the city, even if he is turned into the villian. This movie incorporates all the aspects that make a good story:

We have a perfect antagonist (The Joker)
The Symbol of Good (Batman)
The Fallen Hero (Harvey Dent/Two-Face)

While many critics have said the movie had too many explosions, and jumps from idea to idea, I believe those critics do not see the bigger picture. The movie needs to do those things. The Joker, the main villain, cannot be summed up in a single sentence. Batman tosses between the choice between doing the right thing, and doing what he wants. The movie is so disjointed because the storyline is. What I mean is that the destruction is needed because that is what the Joker is. The fragmentation is needed because that is the crux of the story, choosing the right path to take. These decisions are never easy and it is revealed through the layout of the movie.

Personally, I think Heath Ledger played the Joker to perfection. He took the main concept of the Joker's character, twisted it, and made it his own. The voice was perfect, the mannerisms were perfect, and the facial expressions were spot-on. Chrisitan Bale was also very good in his role, as he was in the first movie. The movie does not disappoint.

The only question I have for the critics of this movie (those whom say The Dark Knight failed to be a good movie) is 'Why So Serious?'