The Amazing Owse and the Amorality of Immigration

DSC00226 The amazing Owse is my go to guy for a delicious rolex, two fried eggs on warm chapati with fresh tomato and onion. Owse has become a fast friend, seeking to learn about Canada as much as he can. DSC00330 In the past couple of weeks he has expressed his desire to come to Canada to find new opportunities. He asked me to find out what I could for him. So I set myself to finding opportunities and it wasn’t long before I realized it was more than a long shot, it’s next to impossible. As it is now, our temporary foreign workers program allows workers to stay in Canada for 4 consecutive years with no chance of going home. When the 4 years are up they have to leave Canada for another 4 years. After 4 years, they could come back with some luck but still have no better chance at becoming a permanent resident. Under our current government, we offer permanent residency to economic immigrants who have a net worth of at least $10 million. It’s telling that we, in one of the world’s richest least-populated countries, accept super rich immigrants while having allowed less than 1,000 Syrian refugees fleeing a brutal civil war. Given this completely unequal system, what hope could Owse, the 18 year old rolex cook with a grade 3 education, ever have? DSC01551

Why in a country like Canada do we only provide opportunity to those who can pay for it? We are a blessed society, yet we keep the benefits from those who could profit from it most. It’s not just unfair, it’s amoral.
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People, Geography and Pies

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People, Geography and Pies

It seems pretty obvious that we don’t choose the life we are born into. A toddler doesn’t choose their country, their government, their family, their religion, their history, or their social class. When two people come together to bring a new human into the world, they bring them into a life already riddled with rules and limitations, but it isn’t their world either. It is the world they inherited from their parents and grandparents and so on back until the dawn of time. Our societies grow out of necessity and convenience, creating a world around us. But as our societies grew and developed, we began to explore the world and export our customs and cultures. We exploited those that we could and established a hierarchy of human value, based largely on geography. We forgot that each and every person is part of something bigger. We forgot it about ourselves. We forgot that we belong to a larger collective. A collective of human beings, struggling one against the other for a bigger part of the proverbial pie. But the forgotten truth is that we are the pie, and we each deserve to be valued for who we are rather than where we are. So when we take more than we need, we take from one another, weakening the whole of humanity.

Out Of The Closet in Cairo

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Out Of The Closet in Cairo

A tweet could have changed my life. One hundred and forty characters of high school heresy spewed forth into the cyber world by the student council president left me outed in Egypt. She, the high school president, tweeted to her hundreds of fellow student followers that I was gay. In a country where rumour spreads faster than truth, I was at the center of a whopper. Cyber slander that could have landed me an outcast, and I had only just arrived.

The only proof to verify my “depravity”, as it is considered in most parts of the Middle East, was a witnessed account of my playfulness on the jungle gym with my Grade 1 and 2 students during their PE class. As I came to understand, Middle Eastern countries are deeply patriarchal and traditionally, men don’t play with children. However, my love of fun was enough to condemn me to a potential fate of segregation, harassment and exclusion from a society with little to no regard for its underground and seldom heard from LGBT community.

It was only last year that one of Egypt’s top diplomats told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that in the Middle East “Gays are not real people.” Politicians from around the country regularly call for executions of homosexuals, or at least, for them to be sent to prisons, or mental institutions to be cured of their own “depravity”. The now infamously heavy-handed Egyptian police have a long history of arresting men on suspicion of being gay, citing their “satanic” and “lewd” conduct that violates Egypt’s strict Public Order and Public Morals code. So, it doesn’t take much to appreciate my concern that too many people might hit the retweet button.

This quick condemnation should be no surprise given the recent baseless accusations that were hurled at two fellow Canadians, John Greyson and Dr. Tarek Loubani. During their detention, they faced allegations ranging from murder to inciting violence. With no crime greater than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, these two men were thrown in prison for 7 weeks, tortured, and kept in abysmal, cockroach infested conditions. Greyson and Loubani paid in full to the notorious Middle Eastern misinformation mill, just as imprisoned Canadian Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy is now. Thankfully, I got a discount.

When I came to school the day after the tweet, the administration had already taken action. The school director had been alerted by a colleague to the slanderous tweet and had no tolerance for such accusations and got to work at setting the record straight. Pun intended. Having just been flown in from Canada, I was a considerable investment and this rumour could not reach the parents. The SC president was forced to delete the Tweet, stripped of her role as president, sentenced to a weeklong in-school suspension and was told to apologize to me. The punishment seemed severe, but in an unpredictable political landscape and an increasingly Islamicized Egypt, it was necessary. If the tweet had made the rounds my students would no longer have respected me, most of my colleagues would have shunned me, and many parents would have refused to let me, a gay man, teach their children. I would have been forced to flee.

When the time came for my teenage accuser to apologize, she knocked on my staff room door and entered. She twiddled her hands nervously and looked distractedly at her feet, reflecting my own unease with the situation. She said she now understood the potential impact her tweet could have had. She was sorry and I forgave her. I did my best to be a teacher and told her that when we find ourselves in positions of power, we have to be accountable for the things we say, even if they take form in a tweet. As she left the staff room, with what I hoped was a lesson, I wondered what would have happened if I were actually gay?

Life Inside The 3rd Dimension

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Life Inside The 3rd Dimesion

We are 3 dimensional beings. Prisoners to the constraints of our movements, we exist only to move forward and backward, side to side, and up and down. Our narrow understanding of the world is generally limited to what we can interpret around us, but our interpretations bring us beyond the 3rd dimension.

The 4th dimension is where space and time combine to create spacetime. This dimension is characterized by our understanding of the relativity of time and space on our lives. We have a “sense” of time or a “sense” of space, that helps us be on time for meetings, park our cars and calculate future planetary alignments. But we don’t live in this dimension, we’re simply visitors.

The 4th dimension. You can see a 3 dimensional cube, suspended in the 4th dimension of spacetime.

The 4th dimension. You can see a 3 dimensional cube, suspended in the 4th dimension of spacetime.

In the chart above, it highlights the differences between 1D, 2D, 3D and 4D planes. But, today’s physicists postulate 11 dimensions, based on M-theory. M-theory is the theory which holds the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe. It is the combination of the laws of physics and how they interact, from microscopic scale to universal. The 7 further dimensions (5-11) are classified as higher-dimensions, affected by supergravity. But, these dimensions are not available to us. We remain locked into our 3 dimensional world, with the idea of a 4th.

With this information swirling around in your head, now try to picture a 2 dimensional world. In this world, beings would be able to move forward and backward, and side to side. They would have no access to the 3rd dimension, up and down. From their viewpoint, we would not exist. We would be an indistinguishable sliver. Take a second, and imagine what we might look like to 4 dimensional beings, those with mastery over spacetime. Now, imagine what they might look like to a 5 dimensional being, and so on and so forth until the 11th dimension.

We exist in one dimension, on one planet, in one solar system, in one galaxy, in one universe. Let’s make it count.

The Rise Of The Humanist

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The Rise Of The Humanist

13.7 billion years ago, the Universe began. For billions of years, particles swirled and danced through the immensity. Stars were born and stars died. From deep inside the depths of burning giants, carbon was spewed across the universe. The particles needed for the development of life, as we know it, accumulated on a tiny speck of a planet, orbiting around a small, insignificant star. For over 4 billion years, the tiny speck gave rise to various forms of life, primordial soups that would eventually churn out giant lizards to roam the planet for millions of years. One day, an even smaller, even more insignificant chunk of space rock collided with the tiny speck of a planet and the giant lizards ended up extinct, their 165 million year reign came crashing to an end.

Millions of years trickled by without the tiny speck noticing. Smaller creatures that had survived the mass extinction of the giant lizards, evolved and adapted to their new environment. For over 2 million years, an upright primate evolved, getting smarter and smarter, until one day 200,000 years ago, homo sapiens was born.

For thousands of years, these new and improved hominids knew nothing of each other or the world they lived in. They lived in small communities, relying on each other for survival. As they learned to communicate, they realized they could accomplish tasks much bigger than themselves. Cooperation was born and pyramids were built. Man had arrived.

Across the reaches of the tiny insignificant chunk of space rock, civilizations rose and fell. Time lingered on and eventually, man’s curiosity to know what lay beyond the rivers and the mountains swelled to a point of no return. Adventurers set out to chart the globe, bringing whole civilizations into contact with one another for the first time. As the humans began to interact, they began to exchange products and ideas. Their development increased and they began to build cities. Other humans from far and wide travelled to the cities to find jobs, or tasks given in exchange for money (an invention of conceptualized value). Soon, the humans wanted more of the value and worked harder to get it. Some chose to get it at the expense of others, and so the humans subjugated each other. Others chose to pay the humans for their work, and industry was born.

Soon, the humans grew greedy and took more than they needed. They spread far around the reaches of the globe, lapping up resources like a thirsty beast. They hoarded their value and used it to make them strong. They threatened those who aimed to take some. All the while, the tiny little speck of rock groaned and grimaced at having to give up its treasures. The insides of the speck were mined and the trees the speck grew to give the humans life, were cut down. The humans burned all of the specks treasures and then the shield against the burning heat of the little star began to deteriorate. Some humans got sick and so did the speck.

The humans wondered what they had done to deserve the wrath of the speck. Too late, they realized their greed and mistakes. They had pushed each other away in the quest for power. They had offended their fellow humans, the rare breed never before seen in the 13.7 billion year old universe. They fought wars and killed each other by the millions. They were raised to hate other humans who had what they wanted. Soon the humans were faced with a dying speck, the constant threat of war, and an unanswered question, what had they done to deserve their quick demise?

From deep inside their demise, came a rallying call. “You are one! Your differences are the beauty and gift of your species. You have slaughtered each other for being different but never celebrated each other for being the same. You are human, the only humans to have existed in the history of the universe. Your greed will bring you to your knees but your cooperation can build a legacy. The universe needs you to unlock its mysteries. You must help one another. So long as humans starve and perish while others roll in their riches, you will never succeed. You are as strong as you are weak.”

Those who heard, answered the call, and the humanist was born.

Imposed Economic Servitude and The Detachment From Civility

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I often contemplate the relationship that Western countries have with the rest of the world. One of the defining moments in Western development was slavery. Slavery helped catapult industrialized nations into positions of vast economic power but came at the cost of millions of lives. I’m not sure whether this relationship paradigm, between developed and non-developed countries, has been abolished, or whether it has simply been repackaged and rebranded. I’m led to the conclusion that following the abolition of the slave trade; post-industrialized nations have sought methods deemed more acceptable to impose economic servitude.

Many countries establish minimum wages in order to provide a limit to the poverty in their homeland; however, a life on minimum wage would have you living in the poverty threshold in America. We have come to accept that some people should be kept in a state of perpetual poverty in order to maintain a pool of working class skilled and unskilled labourers, who have to compete with one another in a Darwinian contest of survival. This minimum wage allows countries to espouse the socialist values of a welfare state and the belief that a society should have a safety net to care for its most vulnerable citizens. But why should millions be forced to live on the brink of economic collapse, working week to week to achieve their most basic needs when at the other end of the spectrum there is prosperity such as the world has never seen. Recently, it was reported that the top 400 earners in America own as much wealth as the bottom 150 million. Why do countries not impose maximum wages? Wages deemed too high and inefficient in contributing to the development of a nations society. These large sums of money are being used to invest and fund development on an international market, instead of being put to work strengthening the societal homeland.

Economists generally cite the application of Adam Smith’s trickle down economics theory as justification for the current capitalist hierarchy. In my opinion, this theory is fundamentally flawed. In the principles of modern Western economics, is it not the prerogative of companies and businesses to cut waste and seek efficiency? Business owners don’t get rich by hiring more people than they need. They do not sit atop their piles of cash and dole it lovingly downward in hopes of establishing a strong foundation of workers. Our market system incentivizes business leaders to strip, lay-off, and cut expenditures to maximize growth and efficiency. The business model of today is based on maximizing profits, which makes it hard for me to believe that Smith’s theory is in play at all. However, we continue to hear from economists, big business and their cronies that this is the best method in bringing the poor out of poverty and strengthening the nation as a whole. At the same time, the income disparity in industrialized nations is growing at a viral rate. Globalization and free trade continues to make the world more accessible, which makes emerging markets available for plundering by the super rich, free to continue their imposition of capitalist driven economic servitude. The law makers of our countries continue to let the money meant for the development of our own societies be used elsewhere, to increase profits for their campaign financiers.

We, as a society, agree that a minimum wage is an essential part of civilized social life. Civilization stems from the recognition of each individual’s position and their rights within a society. Our civility allows people to achieve cooperation and mutual prosperity. The foundations of our civilization are challenged by the development of profit margins. Having 40% of a nation’s wealth in the hands of 1% is irresponsibly uncivilized. Establishing a maximum wage should be brought into effect in order to ensure the prolonged success and stability of our interconnected and interdependent nations. If we continue to divide ourselves, our aspirations, beliefs, and lifestyles we will inevitably fall into a world marred by the fight of us against them, the haves and the have-nots.

We are reaching a critical point of global self-awareness. Globalization began roughly 20 generations ago, which puts everyone alive today in the 1% of global awareness. Never before have we known more about our world. But with this knowledge and visibility, it is becoming increasingly hard to hide in the shadows. The Snowden documents and Wikileaks are prime examples of this. If our governments, which are established on the most virtuous rhetoric, continue to conduct business in a manner which leaves them having to hide, relegated to the shadows, our societies will suffer and our detachment from civility will grow.

Pioneers in the Age of Information – Part 2

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So, now that your boots are comfortably on, we need to climb the mountain of why we should be socially responsible. Why should we find time in our day-to-day to exert any effort into the improvement of our planet? Well, primarily, because we are truly all in it together now. Our lives, through globalization and the Internet, are more accessible (cough NSA cough) and more connected than ever before. Never before have people known more about the rest of the world and its people. This is truly a phenomenal development in the course of our human history.

Iosif Shklovsky, the Soviet astronomer and astrophysicist, theorized that other civilizations might have existed across the universe since the beginning of time, as we know it, roughly 13.7 billion years ago. These civilizations would evolve along a timeline similar to our own and develop technology at a similar rate. Not long after these civilizations would have created radio waves capable of interstellar communication, they would be knocking on the door of their own destruction. This theory applies to us too.

As news of the first man made object to have left our solar system spreads and missions to Mars become an imminent reality, it is clear that we are closing in on this point in our own history. The technological capability of signaling throughout the universe would be paralleled by advances in weaponry that would have the potential to destroy our planet and our species. So, civilizations could be popping up around the universe, sending their interstellar greetings and then inevitably destroying themselves, their light extinguished before it had the chance to shine into the great unknown.

I realize this is only a theory and there is no real way of testing its veracity. But, just in the off chance that it holds true, shouldn’t we take action? The theory suggests that as these civilizations globalize, resistance increases to the clash of cultures. Groups become radicalized and highly advanced weaponry becomes more available. This reminds me of what we almost, and may very well still, witnessed in Syria. If the Americans had attacked Assad, his stores of chemical weapons could have fallen into the hands of even more irresponsible groups. Fast-forward to a hundred years in the future and you can imagine how many of these situations we may face.

Newton’s third law of motion says that for every action, there is an equal and opposing reaction. This could be said of foreign policy decisions too. It is no secret that drone strikes help radical militant groups recruit members, and who can’t understand why? If I had a drone hovering over my head all day and then one day it blew up my family, I’d probably be pretty furious with whoever was in charge of it too. So instead of generating these reactions, that will continue to strike back in waves of opposing force, why don’t we get ahead of the curve? Why don’t we attempt to be pro-active? We have the insight, we have the ability, we have the know-how and we have the tool, the Internet. Our international institutions are swamped with the pressure of cleaning up the messes of the world and never have the time to sit down and analyze the future outcomes of our actions. But even if they did, would we listen?

Religions around the world believe in some sort of Rapture and Armageddon and according to a recent Reuters poll, 22% of Americans believe that it will happen in their lifetime.  If it does happen, they believe they will be whisked away to some variation of heaven. So, where is the incentive in improving and ensuring the longevity of our species here on my heaven, Earth? In science, we are faced with this same doomsday clock. It will either be nuclear war or climate change that wipes us off the pages of history. The Green movement motivates followers to change with the prospect of the end of the world, the climate Armageddon. But, at least it’s pushing people in a proactive direction instead of into complacency.

So, here we are, being subjected to the end of the world rhetoric. But this is a terrible place to start the global dialogue on where we humans are headed. You need hope. You need to start with the possibilities, because if we work together and use the gift that globalization has the potential to be, we could create a world and a history to span the ages.

To be continued….

Pioneers in the Age of Information – Part 1

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Time travel would be an amazing tool. It would allow us to zip around through time discovering truths about ourselves that we could never see in the present. It isn’t because we don’t want to see those truths, well maybe it is, but I’d rather believe it’s because we’re too caught up in our own lives. The day-to-day consumption of getting by can sometimes be just about as much as we can take in.

I read recently in an article, that we live in the 1% of human history that has achieved global awareness. In the other 99%, we went about our lives not knowing what lay beyond the great oceans or over a range of mountains. In the short span of a few centuries, we have discovered our planet. We have put our feet on the tops of the tallest mountains and explored the deepest underwater depths. Now, we know what world is out there. We can open our laptops and click onto the Internet and within seconds; we are connected. This is a miracle by the definition of our ancestors.

However, global awareness does not equate to global empathy. In my experience, among the masses, it is almost the opposite. There is such an overwhelming amount of information, stories, disasters, headlines, and scandals, that it would take a lifetime to scratch the surface. When most people approach a mountain, they simply sit down, have a picnic and look up. Others, if they are brave enough, find a rope and some climbing gear. This is where we are when it comes to social responsibility. There are so many causes, so many issues and so many sad stories that to try to tackle them all can leave you wound up and desperate. One could say that the wiser approach would be apathy, to cut ourselves off from the issues and enjoy the picnic. But, wisdom has to be earned, and we are in our infancy when it comes to giving a damn about the rest of the world, so strap on your boots.

To be continued…

Why I Love Sharks And Why You Should Too

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Thanks to movies like Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, Bait and many more most of us grow up scared of sharks. Now, I assume at some point I was also scared. I’m sure that watching people get eaten by prehistoric flesh eating monsters worried me. But then I got over it.

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I’m not sure what it was exactly that did it but I imagine some of it has to do with scuba diving. I have had wonderful experiences with sharks. I’ve sat right beside a Port Jackson on a night dive watching him devour a sea urchin. I’ve seen Wobbegongs, Grey Nurse sharks and even one Blacktip Reef shark. Each experience I had with a shark blew my mind. The way they glide through the water effortlessly. They are just one big muscle, strong, quick and precise. They have evolved perfectly to their environment, the apex predator. Well, at least until we happened.

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Humans kill sharks at a devastating rate. We are responsible for a mass genocide. Human beings kill 100,000,000 sharks every single year. This is a staggering number. Now, the important thing to remember when it comes to sharks is that we are not attempting to control their populations. We are not breeding sharks like we breed cows or chickens. We are not ensuring the longevity of their species. According to scientists, we are doing it at a rate so fast that the shark populations have no time to recover. Sharks are slow growing and slow to reproduce. This means that if we continue at the same rate, most species of shark could be extinct within a generation.

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The worst part is that most of the sharks killed die by drowning. You may wonder, how can a shark drown? Well, they drown because fishermen who catch sharks catch them for their fins. Shark fins are considered a delicacy throughout many Asian countries. The fins are added to soups, but because they have next to no flavor, it is primarily used as a status symbol. The sharks are hauled up onto the decks of boats, their fins cut off and then pushed overboard. From there, they sink to the bottom of the ocean and slowly drown. The apex predator, an animal that hasn’t had to evolve for millions of years because of its sheer perfection in its environment is dying, finless at the bottom of the sea.

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Now, some of you may be thinking, why should I care? Sharks are scary and they might eat me when I go for a swim. Well to put that claim in perspective, are you afraid of elephants? Thanks to Dumbo and Babar you probably love them. However, according to statistics, elephants are responsible for about 500 human deaths a year. On the other hand, sharks are responsible for about 7, on average. Sure a shark may maim you or take a chunk out of your leg, but chances are you will survive.

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So, you still don’t care? Well, how about we approach it from another angle. Do you enjoy breathing? I sure do! Do you know what is responsible for most of the oxygen on planet Earth? Despite what you’ve heard, the rainforests are not really the lungs of the planet. The majority of our oxygen, 70-80%, comes from marine plants, predominantly algae. That is a staggering fact that not many of us appreciate. Now, what eats algae and marine plants? I would have to say fish. And to march further along this circle of life, what eats fish? Well, I would have to say sharks for the most part (and people!). Okay, cool. So what happens when there are no more sharks because we’ve put all of their fins in soup? There will be a lot more fish, right? And if there are a lot more fish, what are they going to eat? A lot more marine plant life and algae, right? And if our source that provides 70-80% of the oxygen that all living animals need to survive is severely depleted, what happens to us? You can probably guess.

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Although we continue to remove ourselves more and more from what we eat, we are still connected to every living thing on this planet. We need each other to survive. An important truth of science is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only change form. This means that for billions of years, the energy of the planet has been recycled and reused. We don’t own our energy, we are simply borrowing it until a time when we pass on and it takes another shape. So when we irresponsibly destroy an entire species, which lived on this planet long before we came along, we really are killing ourselves. So the next time you hear someone tell you how scary sharks are, maybe you should set them straight and tell them how much scarier a world without them would be.

In Defense of Barack Obama

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The Internet is ablaze with condescension for President Obama. Many people are expressing their distaste with his handling of the Syrian crisis, involving the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against his own people in a Damascus suburb on August 21st.

First off, Obama was condemned for not getting involved in Syria and his phrasing of the “red line” was mocked across the cyber world. Then he was derided for his decision to involve Congress in the debate, instead of using his moral authority to make a decision. Now, he is apparently a “laughing stock” according to USA Today, the Free Republic and various other sources, for his decision to pursue a diplomatic solution being championed by Russia, putting Vladimir Putin in the spotlight.

Now, I can understand why some people think that the president is meant to be clear and decisive. I guess I can also understand how his reaction to Syria may appear wishy-washy to some. But just because I understand where those reactions come from, does not in any way mean that I agree.

Unlike most voices on the Internet, I am impressed with Obama, especially in light of the recent Russian developments. On the day when he was meant to address the nation, and most pundits believed this would be when he made a formal declaration to attack Syria, Russia offered a different course of action. Colluding with Syrian officials, Russia announced that Syria would be willing to hand over its stores of chemical weapons, have them destroyed and sign the treaty on non-proliferation of chemical weapons. This is a huge development. It is a diplomatic coup for Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin, often seen as a remnant of the Soviet era, now appears the wise statesman. While back in America, President Obama is seen as indecisive and weak.

I would assume that this is exactly what Putin and Assad wanted. To push Obama into an impossible situation, make sure that any action he took would be deemed illegal by the international community (thanks to the Russian veto in the Security Council) and then in the 25th hour propose a diplomatic solution. This all seems very likely to me especially since up until this point, Assad’s government had denied even having chemical weapons.

So, as various news outlets and pundits continue to play into the hands of Putin and make him appear the hero, Obama is ridiculed. And I ask why? Is it for calling on Congress to debate the response of the American government? Or, maybe, for pursuing a diplomatic solution to an otherwise costly and messy intervention? I hope not.

Obama set limits, which admittedly were hard to enforce or to provide enough evidence to warrant action, but showed restraint. He then encouraged a public discourse on the crisis and involved the elected representatives of the people, in a show of true democratic decision-making. And then, relinquished his place as the only world leader with a solution in an attempt to pursue a different path. Isn’t this the exact kind of leadership that democracy aspires to? Involving the people, listening to others and adjusting our views based on new information is the rational, logical, mature approach.

He is being attacked for appearing weak, but strong leadership is not about appearances. It is about making the hard choices despite what it may do to your reputation. It is about due process and pursuing alternatives, from wherever they may appear. Great leaders know that sometimes you have to lead from behind. Obama has been unsatisfying to me in many respects, but in his handling of the current situation, I applaud him.

It is hard to say what will happen in the coming days. Attempting to remove all the chemical weapons from Syria would require an immense effort and the implicit cooperation of Assad. It is reminiscent of when the United Nations sent inspectors to Iraq in the early 90’s to disarm Saddam of his chemical weapons following his massacres of the Kurdish people. He appeared to cooperate, but was in reality wheeling the weapons out the back door as the inspectors entered through the front. There is no way to know whether or not Assad will truly disarm. It seems less likely given that he has requested that the inspection team be Russian and what incentive would the state that is arming him have in disarming him? There are a lot of variables that will need strict oversight for this to be successful but it offers a glimmer of possibility. And in the immortal words of John Lennon, isn’t it time we give peace a chance?