Not a thing to say

The title pretty much sums it up. I mean, there’s a lot I COULD say, but there’s nothing I WANT to say.

I could comment on the two men in Connecticut who raped and murdered three out of four members of a family, while leaving the fourth on life support. But I won’t.

I could comment on the London man who was shot twice for asking some other men to stub out a cigarette at a nightclub, where smoking is banned. But I won’t.

I could comment on the phenomenon that is “Potter-mania”. But I won’t.

I could comment on the British Columbia government’s continuing gutting of our health care system. But I won’t.

I could comment on the seemingly never-ending reports of suicide bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But I won’t.

You see, there’s just so much that’s completely f*cked up in the world, that I’m at a bit of a loss. Has society grown too big for itself? It seems that even with all the communications technology available, we are in many ways worse off than before. It’s easier than ever for messages of ignorance and hate to spread rapidly. It’s not often that we see hopeful and positive messages on the Internet.

I suppose this is partly the function of the media, which interprets the best “news” as reports of death, calamity, or crime.

This is partly why I stopped subscribing to newspapers. It’s not a desire to bury my head in the sand, but more a general sense of disgust with the stories that the media consider newsworthy.

In this day of blogs, podcasts, and YouTube, everyone has the power to be a journalist. Unfortunately, 99.99% of people are repeating the mistakes of the mainstream media with inane, mundane, and pointless repetitions of things that are only relevant because some other person says it is.

I guess my point is this: we have the tools available to us for positive change, but we continue to use them without thought or care. Rather than embracing the possibilities, we limit ourselves to seeing these tools as various ways to obtain entertainment and diversion.

I guess I did have something to say after all.

Book Review: “I Love Dollars”

I Love Dollars: And Other Stories of China
Zhu Wen
Columbia University Press (2007)
ISBN: 0231136943

This is an anthology of six short stories written by Zhu Wen during the 90s. I’ll tell you right now that if you’re looking for a positive review, read any of the other reviews on the Internet.

I had high hopes for these stories going in. I wanted to read about the turbulence of China’s economic transformation set against the inevitable human costs. I wanted to see the choking pollution settling in layers of grime on the industrialized cities of the north and west. I wanted to hear the voices of the millions of displaced farmers as the clamoured for work at factory gates. I suppose holding preconceived notions is my fault.

What I got instead was six stories (of which I could only read about three-and-a-half, but due to boredom, nothing else) detailing the mundane minutiae of the main character’s life. (We’ll assume that this main character is the author himself.)

These stories don’t go anywhere. Normally, you expect there to be some progress, whether it be in the character’s development or the events themselves, but that doesn’t happen. What you get instead are the aforementioned minutiae set against the ramblings of Zhu’s aimless thoughts.

Take the second story, “A Night at the Hospital”. For unknown reasons, Zhu volunteers to take the night watch over his girlfriend’s father as he recovers from a gall bladder operation. We are treated to an absurd sequence of scenes revolving around the poor father’s bodily functions. We get the feeling that Zhu feels caught up in the events, that he has no control over them. I can fully appreciate this as an metaphor of the way the average person caught up in China’s head-long rush to developed nation status must feel, but set against the backdrop of an old man’s need to pee makes the whole story feel disposable.

That’s my main complaint about these stories: they have no weight. After reading “I Love Dollars”, the eponymous first story, I’m left with a number of impressions: women as commodities, pursuit of money over development of interpersonal relationships, [insert other broad social theme], etc. etc. But that’s all they amount to. Zhu fails to make a lasting impression because we don’t know what his opinions of these issues are. We can guess he thinks they’re negative, but since his characters don’t make a judgment one way or another, we can’t be sure.

In the end, Zhu also fails to offer any solutions or ways out of the dilemmas that his characters face. They blithely surf along the waves of their misfortunes, with little reaction to unfortunate circumstances. Something bad happens, they react, and that’s it. His characters don’t learn from their encounters, nor does the reader.

Summer co-op job

Haven’t written since the winter semester finished, so here’s a quickie: I managed to snag a technical writing position at Sierra Wireless for the summer. Cool thing is the staff technical writer was a graduate of the Print Futures program from 10 years ago. It’s nice to meet someone who ‘made it’.

Anyways, hope to do more posts in the future. And now that it doesn’t have to be work-related, perhaps I can make things a little more interesting (i.e. more critical, controversial, ascerbic, etc. etc.).

Cheers.

Why We Fight?

If you’ve ever seen a war movie, it’s simple: Because THEY’RE the bad guys. If we don’t kill them, they’ll us. We’re defending our way of life from godless, communist, rebellious, and/or child-killing hordes. Etc, etc, etc.

Hollywood continually glamourizes the herosim and spectacle of the World Wars. Unfortunately for you, if you grew up on those movies and wanted to become a soldier because of them, war hasn’t been fought like that since, well, the World Wars.

Beginning with the Korean War, and brought to the forefront by the Vietnam War, guerilla warfare is the modern reality of conflict. No longer do two opposing armies meet on a battlefield with clearly delineated front lines, fields of fire, and artillery barrages. Today’s battles are fought, more often than not, in cityscapes ruined by mortars, rockets, and missiles, that kill many more civilians than they do combatants.

Caught up in the midst of this senseless and random death are the political ideologies that prompt and promote armed conflict. Whether they come from a warlord in Africa, a strongman in the Balkans, or a politician in the Middle East, the reasons for fighting are almost never the reasons that the general public sees and hears in the media.

Of course, this has been true of all conflicts. Governments have always had their own reasons for fighting wars, reasons that they often feel the public will not approve of. But now, with the popularization of the Internet, opposing ideas are presented and discussed with such ease and rapidity that even the average person is left doubting a government’s reasons for fighting. The Internet has also made it easier to research and point out the double-talk and deception perpetrated by governments in the pursuit of their hidden agendas.

Unfortunately, the media, the vast majority of which is controlled by just a few corporations, is content to spew the party line, whatever it may be. Journalistic integrity went out the window with the consolidation of newspapers, radio stations, and, eventually, TV stations that all began after World War II.

War is no longer clear-cut. The reasons are not the reasons we’ve been told. In some conflicts, like the ongoing one in Iraq, it’s clear that there were economic motivations for America’s (along with the ‘Coalition of the Willing’) invasion, not supposed WMDs. In others, such as any of the numerous, nameless wars in Africa, we don’t even know the reasons because the media doesn’t care to report about them.

When there isn’t a clear reason to fight (and there may never be one), why do we, as human beings, continue to pull the trigger on other human beings?

Work #2

A bad job is one where you see no further hope of learning anything new, and where you feel that you’re no longer making a positive contribution. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think a bad job is one where your boss is an ass, or your co-workers are incompetent, or the work itself is horrible. All of these are symptoms of a bad job, but they’re not the reasons the job is bad.

One of the reasons I work is to improve myself. I want to learn new things so that I can better prepare myself for whatever may happen in the future. I also want to do work that’s helping other people in some way, whether it be through selling them a product or providing a service. This not only boosts my self-esteem, but it also gives me a reason to go to work every day.

Without these elements, the bad boss, co-workers, and/or work are highlighted. Not only are you not getting anything out of the job for yourself, but other factors are driving your job satisfaction down. That’s when it’s time to find a new job – when you’re no longer able to identify benefits to staying on.

So a bad job can be found anywhere. That guy driving a Porsche and making $150,000 a year could be stuck in a job that he sees no future in and derives no enjoyment from. It’s not obvious to the casual observer that his job sucks since he has all the trappings of success.

At the same time, the cashier working at a McJob may consider that she’s in a good job because she’s learning about customer service, inter-personal communications, and being part of a team. Sure, the pay’s low, the customers surly, and the food crap, but she knows that she’s improving herself for the job market later on.

I think a bad job is what you make of it. If you’re able to find positives in the work, then you’re obviously learning something of use. Take as much as you can if you’re in this position to ready yourself for a new job. Only when you’re no longer anything new is it time to quit.

But you know, having said all this, I recognize that sometimes it’s not humanly possible to tolerate the rantings of an insane manager or the ramblings of inane co-workers for any length of time. The delineations of a bad job are fluid, and the all depend on your personal tolerances. Ultimately, if you can’t take it any more, that’s probably the time to look for a new job.

Work

Why do people work? What is it that makes someone go to a place everyday to do a job that they don’t really like doing? It has to be more than just money, right?

I don’t know about other people, but one reason to stick with a job is the people you work with. As corny as it sounds, your co-workers go a long way to helping you get through each workday. One of my previous jobs involved selling things that I wasn’t too enthused about selling. Correction. I hated selling those things.

Luckily, the people I worked with were all cool. Everyone did what they could to make work a little more inviting, whether it was bringing in baking one morning, or finishing up quickly so that we could all leave a few minutes early.

Another reason to work is the experience you gain. Unless you’re stuck in a menial job where every day is the same as the one before, there’s always something to be learned, even by doing a job you dislike. I sometimes wonder if I should have stuck it out a little longer at one of my other jobs in order to learn as much as I could. I disliked the work, but I was learning something new almost every day.

But these are just a couple things I’ve experienced. What makes you go to work everyday? And the people who have jobs they love, please chime in as well. I’d love to hear any and all reasons for working.