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The Bastard Cause

My Friends,
   A few years back I took a political science course which related to how power and influence are wielded and consolidated in Canadian politics.  And though it dealt specifically with Canada, the lessons of the course had universal implications.
   To add a practical aspect to the course, the professor decided he wanted the class to choose a representative (I put up my hand and was picked) who would act as the student voice and help to organize agitation for change we wanted to see in the course.  Basically he gave us carte blanche to organize and demonstrate so we could make changes to the marking scheme of assignments, the weighting of assignments, due dates, etc…  It turned out disastrous; people were not simply apathetic but generally scared to be involved in walkouts or any other disruption which their parents might disapprove of, even though the professor had said that’s what he wanted from us.   I’ll take blame for failing to inspire them where blame is due, but I think their lack of enthusiasm was a product of something more fundamental than a lack of charisma on my part.
   However, the result of this experiment is not what I want to talk about today.  Rather I wish to segue into the matter at hand by recalling an important lesson I learned in my first couple of days as class rep.  Basically, I had worked with the sub-representatives and had gotten a survey of what the class of 150+ students wanted to see regarding change to the curriculum.  I made a list of our modest demands and when I went to ascend the dais to communicate these ideas, the professor refused to let me have the floor.  He explained that I was not the legitimate, duly-elected leader of the class because I had simply put my hand up when no one else had.  For him to recognize us we would have to have a formal election.
   This fuckery put us behind two weeks because I had to go about organizing an election and urging my peers to nominate/self-nominate.  In the end, the consensus was that I should have the job because I was the only one who showed interest.  So there I was, representative-acclaimed, still at square one with 14 days less to work with in the semester.
   This taught me that perceived legitimacy imparts great power to a group.  It may not seem that profound, but keep this in mind next time you read the newspaper.  There are sound-bites and quotations aplenty in any news publication from individuals representing one interest trying to discredit, decry and deligitimize representatives from other interests, or other interests as a whole.
   A recent news item which conceived the kernel which became the idea which became this post is Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews’ condemnation of the hackers from Anonymous making public all of his personal information in response to his proposed internet-privacy infringing legislation, Bill C-130.  Of the hackers from Anonymous, Toews said:
   “These are individuals, as far as I can understand it, who can choose to belong to Anonymous whether other members of Anonymous want them to be there or not…So in many respects, these are individuals acting on their own.”  –24H 28 March 2012

Do you see what he did there?  He called into question the membership status of individuals belonging to a group with no membership requirements, save for self-identification as a member.

But in the bullshit department … a businessman can’t hold a candle to VIC TOEWS.  Cause I gotta tell ya the truth folks … when it comes to bullshit, big-time, major-league bullshit, you have to stand in awe … in awe … of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, VIC TOEWS”

   Ironically, he gives an amorphous and loosely-associated group like Anonymous a certain credibility by virtue of tangibility: By recognizing that there might be some kind of membership process by which the hackers interfering with his privacy have not yet gone through, he is imparting recognition to the group.  Still, this inadvertent nod to the group should not detract from his aim, which was to attack the credibility of the group’s individual members.
   Another example of this kind of marginalization would be when the British government withdrew Special Category Status from IRA prisoners in the 1970s and mandated that they would have to wear normal prison uniforms instead of their IRA uniforms.  The Brits were looking to take them down a peg from “political prisoner” to “ordinary criminal,” which is basically like spitting on them and their cause.  Obviously, the IRA prisoners didn’t stand for it, but that’s a different story.
   While this calling into question of membership status and group structure is an effective means of delegitimizing an opponent, I feel the most oft-used (and often readily believed) method is to remove a group’s ownership of a cause, or simply to blame foreign interlopers.  Let’s go back to the early 1960s when the Portuguese were fighting to maintain control of their African colonies, primarily Angola.  The Salazar government maintained throughout the conflict that the Angolans were happy as Portuguese subjects and that the war was being waged by Soviet proxies trying to destabilize the balance of power in Africa.  I have a great-uncle who was on the Portuguese side in that war and when we have talked about it, he still insists that the Angolans loved the Portuguese presence and that the enemies they were fighting came from abroad.  If that was actually so, then whence cometh war?
   Even a superpower like the USSR would have had marked difficulties discreetly waging a proxy war against the Portuguese in Angola if both the Portuguese colonists AND the Angolan natives didn’t want them there.  If the Angolans were really on the same side as the Portuguese then they would have done a better job of reporting these interlopers who would materialize in and out of the civilian population much like the Taliban materializes in and out of groups of our Afghan “friends” today.
   However, saying that the war/cause is being waged by foreign belligerents is an expedient way to cast doubt on just how disaffected one’s own people are.
   Which brings me to the G20 conference in Toronto during June 2010.  I have had conversations with cop friends of mine who were doing security at the summit about the morality of preventing Canadian citizens from  marching into the streets.  One of the worst justifications I have heard for violent suppression of these protests is that the so-called “Black Bloc” were all foreigners and professional agitators who riot for pay.
   There is so much I take issue with in this defence, so let’s just break it down into three main questions:

1) Whether Canadian or foreign, if they are rioting for pay, who is paying them?  No one seems to ask this question although the trope of the “agitator-for-hire” is one I have heard from different police officers.  It seems to me that someone would only pay these people to violently demonstrate if they had something to gain from it.  So what is there to be gained from violence in the streets?  Justification for over-reaching legislation?  Larger budgets and greater powers for police forces?  Who might profit from these things?

“You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers.  But you start to follow the money and you dont know where the fuck it’s gonna take you.”

2) Even if they are foreigners, it IS a multi-national summit.  Its seems a bit presumptuous to invite the leaders of the nations over and then get mad when their constituents follow as well.  Multi-national protestors at multi-national summits are as natural as multi-national spectators at the Olympics.
3) Do we really think that all of the discontent that was expressed was the work of these agitators?  Is there actually no angry Canadians who wanted to be heard throughout these protests?
   Obviously this last question is the most pertinent to the discussion at hand.  Its as if the mention of foreigners should convince the masses watching at home that all Canadians are happy with the way things are and that they should be too.  
   But to illustrate how preposterous this assurance is, let’s look at a current example: Bashar al-Assad is claiming that his people, who have been revolting for a year now, are not the problem.  instead it is again foreign interlopers trying to destabilize his government.  If we find his claims about Syrian contentment so ridiculous, why should any other government’s claims about its idyllic domestic situation be deemed any less so?
   I apologize if I seem a bit disjointed, and in the case of the G20 stuff, a bit tangential.  Overall, what you should take away from this wall of text is that whether its a grassroots movement or an elected leader, an opponent will always try to chip away at their legitimacy.  If you can delegitimize an opponent you take away their ability to play ball on your court, so of course you’re gonna win.  
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Choose Your Own Adventure

My Friends,
   Did you ever read those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child?  The ones where you start as a space pirate or an Etruscan cosmonaut, or some other equally ridiculous premise is established…

Often, “space” was involved.
…and you are given a set of choices every few pages which lead to branching paths with widely different outcomes?  Well, even if you haven’t you’re probably aware of their existence, or of the existence of this type of narrative used in other media.  
   What I find fascinating about these books is that right until the bitter end (DEATH) or conversely, if you picked the right path, the awesome end (SPACE VAGINA), you always had a choice.  And the set of choices you were given at each crossroads was very telling of how wise, foolish or just plain lucky you had been during the previous sets of choices.  For example, if your set of choices was “Hide in the murderer’s closet and hope he doesn’t find you,” or “Confront the murderer with no weapon,” you had probably fucked up somewhere earlier.  Might have been when you chose not to wait for the police but rather to investigate the murderer’s space home by yourself, but who can say for sure?
I find it interesting that “space” is not included in the title.  Perhaps they just took it for granted that the novel would be set in space by the time they got this far in the series.

   I feel that this is a really apt metaphor for life: To be sure, we always have a choice, or rather, we are given a set of choices.  But then again, your choices at any given time are the outcome of previous choices and paths taken.  It’s like how the choice between a natural birth or a C-Section can be the result of a previous decision to either have unprotected sex or use a condom, which sprang from a decision prior to that between drinking excessively at a party or remaining sober.
“You see there is only one constant.  One universal.  It is the only real truth.

   So having established the truism that each choice leads to a distinct and different set of choices than the opposite choice, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that there is another important element which determines the set of choices you are given in life.  To illustrate what I mean, I submit the following work:
If I’m lyin, I’m dyin…

Now if you were to pick up this book, which of the following choices would you most expect to be confronted with:
A) Whether to use a sword or a spell to overpower the dragon.
B) Whether to fight the zombie hordes or seek shelter in an abandoned factory
C) Whether or not to advise the captain of the spaceship that there is discontent brewing among the crew
D) Whether to climb to the top of Mount Olympus or ride your Pegasus up there
Of course, the answer is C: In a book about space mutiny you can reasonably expect to make choices relating to mutineers on a spaceship.
   Now let’s try again; assume the book in this instance is called New Delhi Street Urchin, which of the following choices could you reasonably expect to make:
A) Whether or not to go to college or join the army
B) Whether to play football or basketball after school
C) Whether to remain defiant or resign yourself to your fate as you are sold into prostitution
D) Hot dogs or hamburgers for lunch
Again, the answer is C, but to my my knowledge this CYOA volume has never been written.  No matter though, its real-life for many and we see here how the choices we would take for granted in North America (A, B & D) aren’t even in the deck for our protagonist.  But the divide isn’t simply national or cultural, it exists within our own national/continental borders.  For example, a Choose Your Own Adventure volume entitled Adventures of a Wealthy Heir would present choices about whether to go to law school, play polo or summer in the Hamptons, while a volume entitled Adventures of a Low-Income Baltimore Youth might present choices about whether or not to sell cocaine, hide from police, or give a cellmate a buck-fifty.  To pretend that both of these protagonists have an equal chance to thrive in this world is akin to pretending that the protagonist of Space Patrol

also has a shot of defeating the Ninja Cyborg.
Patrolling space is gonna give you a vastly different set of choices than training in Cyborg Ninjitsu on Earth.  This will lead to vastly different (though perhaps equally awesome in this case) outcomes in both fiction and real life.
   I guess what I am ultimately trying to say is that there is a way in which we are given a set of choices which amount to no choice at all.  Like a rabbit being canalized toward a snare, we are often led to sets of choices in which we must determine the lesser of two evils.  But since the choice between two shitty alternatives still rests with the individual, we are wont as a society to hold them up to the fire rather than re-evaluating our system which presents so many with such an unfairly stacked deck.  They chose their own adventure after all
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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My Least Favourite Activity

My Friends,
   Yesterday I decided it would be prudent to stop living off of my savings as I have been since September and re-enter the job market.  I dropped off applications/resumes at The Keg and Milestones, looking to get hired on as a server.  Job-hunting has to be my least favourite thing in the world because of my fear of rejection, but also because it takes some presumption to walk into a place and hand them a resume.  It’s the equivalent of saying “motherfucker, you don’t know how much you need me, but I do, so you best hire me.”  That said, the two places I stopped at went well enough; the Keg told me they were fully-staffed but given my previous employment with the Keg they would pass my resume along to the dining-room manager, and the guy at Milestones said he would give me a shout before the end of the week.
   This was all well and good but it didn’t give me the feeling of well-being you might expect and not merely because two jobs in the bush don’t equal one in the hand.  Rather, my lack of peace of mind was more attributable to the fact that if/when I get a job, it is the beginning of the next phase of what I want to do with my life, and I am quite nervous about it.  Essentially, there is another job I want, more of a career than a job  (Not to disparage employment in the food-service industry because its a ton of fun and a great livelihood.  But in the career-type job they will be looking more at the education I have paid so dearly for and they will probably not also employ high-school students like every job I have had thus far), and I don’t feel quite ready to apply for it yet.
   Why don’t I feel ready?  Feelings of inadequacy really; my wardrobe consists mostly of wife-beaters, jeans and athletic clothes, and I would like to invest in some more 3-piece ensembles before I start knocking down doors and demanding employment.

I’m thinking I’ll spring for some tweed.  I already have the pipe and I’m still undecided on the leather cap & goggles

I know this is a superficial concern but unfortunately we live in a world where the garments you wear give an indication of your suitability for the job…
What He said!

…so I am forced to play the game.  This is where the job-type job comes into play; clothes cost money so now I will make some so I can upgrade the wardrobe to the level of refinement society expects from a 27-year-old.  
   However, it must be said that waiting is more than a means to an end.  Its a fun job and one I could see myself doing for years alongside other jobs.  If nothing else, its a break from routine, gives you an opportunity at problem-solving (every table is different), and forces you to keep your interpersonal skills sharp.
   I’m gonna go a tweak my resume some more but will keep posted on developments in the job-market and also the process by which I psych myself up for the next step.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Leaving it all Behind … Not as Simple as it Sounds

My Friends,
   As I leave for my excursion around the world in less than a week I have entered prep mode in a big way. I have figured for some time that there would be certain prudent precautions to take, such as photocopying and scanning important documents so that I would have backups in case of loss or theft.  However, the military travel advisor I met with last week also recommended I go through my entire itinerary (such as it is) and write down the contact information for every Canadian embassy and consulate in every country I will be visiting.  Its sound information to be sure, but tedious as fuck.
   On top of this I still have to procure the Vibram KSO Trek Five Fingers shoes which I mentioned last week.  I went on a bit of a wild goose chase through Toronto last night looking for them and I pretty much have one last shot I am betting on before I go: a shipment arriving at Atmosphere may have the KSO Treks  in my size.  If I am unable to get those shoes, well I will have to rethink things a bit.
   To add to this there is still about $200 worth of gear I want to pick up as well as $200 worth of prescriptions which have to be ordered.  Luckily, in spite of the cost of these last two, they are all relatively easy to procure.  The only problem is that I am trying desperately trying to finish season 5 of The Wire before I go. I have seven more episodes to go so I should be ok, but it has really been interfering with my prep i.e. I got up at 8 today and spent the last three hours watching it when I should have been doing prep.
   For my benefit more than yours, here is an abbreviated to-do list that i must complete before I go:

-finish The Wire
-scan important documents
-make a list of important numbers and contact info -visa, bell, embassies, etc…
-order prescriptions (two day turnover)
-sign off on all military claims so I get all monies (sic) coming to me
-pick up last gear required
-finish that travel playlist (mebbe spend a morning just downloading songs)
-go on couchsurfing.org and look for available couches beyond just my first city
-have one last night alone with internet porn (note: will have to find a way to remove woman from the equation and come up with a legit reason for why “I’m tired”)
-night out with the boys
-last visit with the family

So yeah I think that’s it.  Wow, its a lot easier to blog about this stuff than it is to actually go out and do it.

Kinda like sex

However, I just caught a bad case of motivation so I am off to get some shit done.
Stay Thirsty
-Andre Guantanamo

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